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School Development Fund vs The Right To Education

05 October 2010
The Namibian
By: Toni Hancox

THIS is not intended to be an exhaustive article on the right to education as a constitutional right but merely seeks to highlight some issues for debate in response to a recent article about the exclusion of pupils due to non-payment of school development fund fees. One can never cease to highlight the universal importance of basic education. It is from a humanitarian viewpoint widely regarded to be one of the most important means to personal development, human dignity and poverty eradication. It enhances all other human rights when guaranteed and forecloses the enjoyment of most, if not all other human rights, when denied.

Rights for individuals correspond with obligations for governments. This leads to the awareness that the main protector of human rights can also be the main violator.

Article 20 of the Namibian Constitution confirms that all persons shall have the right to education, that primary education shall be compulsory and that the State shall provide reasonable facilities to render effective this right for every resident within Namibia, by establishing and maintaining State schools at which primary education will be provided free of charge. 

Article 20 is found within Chapter 3 of the Constitution, our Bill of Rights.  The Bill of Rights is entrenched and cannot be changed.  The right to education is one of the few social, economic and cultural rights found in the Bill of Rights.  This indicates, therefore, that the founders of our nation considered education to be on a par with civil and political rights such as the right to dignity and the right to life.

The right to basic education can be enforced immediately and Government must ensure that this right accrues in a meaningful way.  The reference to the responsibilities of parents in the article “A child’s right, a parent’s duty” must therefore be considered together with the responsibility of Government.

Consider also that the right to basic education means the meaningful realisation of such a right. It would not be sufficient, for example, for government to build schools only in town centres when the majority of learners live in the rural areas.

Access is important and a plan would have to be implemented to ensure that rural learners can also attend school. Some possibilities could be more mobile schools, the building of more hostels for out-of-town learners or the creation of transport networks to allow children to live at home but still attend schools that are beyond walking distance. There are many ways that real access to education can be accomplished but this takes innovative thinking from civil society and government alike.

Concluding remarks

Both international and national legally binding provisions require primary education in Namibia to be free and compulsory.  

Government is not the only investor in education, but it is widely accepted that the Government via taxation is the investor of last resort. This means that it is the obligation of Government to ensure that the intake capacity of primary schools equals the number of children in the primary school age. This is currently not the case in Namibia.

There is a school of thought that considers the school development fund established by the Education Act 2001 to be equivalent to school fees and thus in violation of Article 20 of the Namibian Constitution and Namibia’s international obligations. These school development funds can be a major obstacle for children from poor households to access schooling and can prevent them from getting out of the poverty trap. 

Although the school development fund is undeniably important in raising the standards of education and educational facilities offered to our children, it is important to remind the stakeholders of their core obligations and the ideal standard of compliance when setting out policies. 

It is also very important to keep in mind that the Education Act makes provision for the full or partial exemption of parents who are unable to pay and notice of this should be given to the parents. An inability to pay the school development fund should not be used as a reason to exclude a child from school. This is a violation of the right to education.

It is sad but undeniable that some parents cannot come to the school to “make arrangements” since they simply do not want to make a promise that cannot be kept.  With our current unemployment statistics, I can only consider what sacrifices have already been made merely to buy a uniform.

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