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CAFO on free pre-primary and primary education

The Church Alliance for Orphans (CAFO) has taken note of the decision by Government to provide free pre-primary and primary education. With this decision the Government expressed its strive to have free education for primary schools, as expressed in Article 20 of the Constitution.
This step is also in line with the global movement on Education For All (EFA) which was launched in 1990 at the World Conference on Education for All in Thailand by 155 countries with representatives from 150 organisations, followed up in 2000 at the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal, attended by1100 participants agreeing on the Dakar Framework for Action as a commitment to achieving Education for All by the year 2015.
Six goals were agreed upon. They included: Goal 1: Expand early childhood care and education;Goal 2: Provide free and compulsory primary education for all, Goal 6: Improve the quality of education.
These goals are measured through the Education for All Development Index (EDI) of which Namibia was ranked 82nd out of 120 countries.
But it is important to view the aspect of education for all in a broader perspective:
1. Education and quality
Education for all can only really be achieved with results when the quality is improved. Over the world a huge gap persists between the number of students graduating from school. Namibia struggles in this regard in particular. Quality remains at the heart of education. The graduation rates from high school still are of much concern, and have to be addressed as a matter of urgency. A challenge is to ensure that students stay in school long enough to acquire the knowledge they need to cope in a rapidly changing world.
2. Socio-economic situation and related factors
The socio-economic status has a strong influence on levels of school outcomes. Research has shown that poverty, rural residence and gender discrimination remain the strongest inverse correlates of school attendance and performance, as learners do not come to the classroom equal. Socio-economic background, gender, disability, race, ethnicity, HIV/AIDS and emergency are critical factors. To mention just the aspect of HIV/AIDS, in sub-Saharan Africa more than 11 million children under the age of 15 have lost at least one parent to HIV/AIDS. As a result their opportunities to learn are often curtailed by the need to care for sick family.
Unemployment and poverty in our country is one of the bigger challenges facing quality education, and Namibia has not yet found a plausible answer to this disheartening picture. The resistance by the government to the Basic Income Grant (BIG, which results are telling) is a great concern and disappointment. Implementing BIG on a larger scale will replicate its successes throughout the country, and restore hope to many families.
3. Other Important Factors
3.1 Local languages
About 1.3 billion people (or a 20% of the world’s population) have an ethnic as a mother tongue. In these circumstances the choice of language used in school is a key contributing factor for the quality of teaching and learning. A lesson learnt is that evidence indicates that starting instruction in the learner’s first language improves learning outcomes and reduces grade repetition and drop-out rates.
3.2 Salaries of Teachers
It is fact that poor salaries of teachers may seriously undermine quality. It means in that simply focusing on quantitative goals such as universal primary education may not deliver on EFA.
The Government has to address this unresolved issue as soon as possible as part of its search for a qualitative educational system.
4. In Conclusion
We commend the move towards free education for pre- and primary education, but call for a speedy implementation of the six goals of the EFA, as well as the broader issues facing the Education system of our country, of which just a few of them were stated above.
It is time to address the deeper level issues that constitute quality in education for all.
Dr Henry G Platt
(Executive Director: CAFO)
(Statement shortened – Ed.)

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