IN a small ‘classroom’ outside the northern town of Rundu, a group of pupils try their best to concentrate on the day’s lesson while shielding themselves from the heat.
The open-air classroom, whose ‘wall’ is made of sticks and thatch, is set up like a normal classroom with desks and chairs, except there is no roof above the heads of about 50 pupils.
Sudden changes of temperature that bring rain or violent winds could bring the day’s lessons to an abrupt end at Rupeho Junior Primary School at Rupeho Village.
According to the Ministry of Education, there are about 1 300 schools with traditional structures. Approximately 344 open air classrooms were recorded in 2013, with most of such structures in the Kunene.
Rupeho school principal, Aune Amutenya, says she and her learners are at the mercy of the unpredictable weather elements.
“Sometimes the wind scatters the learners’ books all over the place and when it rains, desks and chairs are damaged too,” reveals Amutenya.
The school, established more than a decade ago, has not seen much infrastructural development, while its learners, mostly Grades 1 and 3, have to sit for hours in the blazing sun or are sent back home when it rains. During the winter months, pupils have to endure the cold.
Amutenya adds that the children relieve themselves in the nearby bushes because there are no toilets, and this makes them susceptible to diseases. The school also accesses water from the community taps.
Such a harsh learning environment, she says, reduces the pupils’ learning abilities. Amutenya says sometimes she can see the despair in the children’s eyes.
“I struggle to hold their attention because obviously this is not a friendly learning environment. It takes away their desire to learn,” she states.
Amutenya says she tried explaining her predicament to officials at the Ministry of Education but was told that the number of learners was not big enough for permanent classrooms.
“I was informed the ministry would only step in if the number of learners was above 75,” she says, adding that since then, she has given up trying to get the ministry to come to their aid and has resigned to teaching under a tree.
Outside classrooms, like Amutenya’s, are reportedly common, especially in remote areas where resources to build stable classrooms are limited. Educators and teachers’ unions have blamed the government for denying the pupils permanent classrooms even if the numbers are insignificant.
“It is hard to imagine that 24 years after independence, there are still learners taught under trees with no quality teaching materials and equipment,” says Godfried Karapo, a teacher at another Olavi Sivhute Combined School in Kavango West, Musese village.
The school is an extension of its parent school of the same name. Like the pupils at Rupeho Primary School, Karapo’s 17 learners sit on logs because there are no chairs.
A corrugated iron sheet has been placed above their heads to serve as a roof, but is not enough to keep out the rain, the wind and the sun. Karapo, the only teacher at the school, says he has taught many children under the same conditions over the years.
“The challenge is convincing government to support us financially to build a proper classroom, but since we do not meet the 75 learners requirement, this is a battle I have to fight on my own,” he says.
Both Amutenya and Karapo believe that government has done little to improve the learning conditions of their pupils.
Education ministry spokesperson, Johanna Absalom, insists that they cannot set up permanent classrooms for schools with less than 75 learners.
“This is triggered by the mobile population and very small schools, which won’t warrant the erection of permanent structures,” explains Absalom.
She also says regions such as Khomas, Omaheke and Kavango East, are also feeling the brunt of classroom shortage since the number of registered learners reached an all-time high with the introduction of the free education for primary education. The Karas region, she claims, has fewer needs for schools.
Following the late education minister Abraham Iyambo’s announcement of free primary school education in 2012, the financial burden for many parents and caregivers was lifted.
Many have praised government’s leap towards the realisation of this goal, and the latest announcement of free secondary education by Minister David Namwandi has earned government praises from registered voters months before the country’s sixth national elections.
But with the announcement of free education, government now has the daunting task of ensuring that the primary school learners who registered this year, are settled into classrooms and have study materials at their disposal.
Earlier this year during his State of the Nation address, President Hifikepunye Pohamba said enrolment for pre-primary school increased from 15 000 pupils in 2012 to more than 24 000 in 2013.
“Grade 1 enrolment increased from less than 66 000 to more than 74 000 learners in 2013,” Pohamba said.
Absalom says government has allocated N$770m for infrastructure alone for the 2014-2015 financial year to accommodate the increasing number of learners.
From this budget, the ministry announced that 23 new schools are expected to be built at an average cost of N$68 million per school under the Basic Education Facility Budget.
“In the meantime, the construction of 600 schools, which will be operational in mid-2014, is nearing completion,” Absalom reveals, adding that plans are underway to build teachers’ accommodation.
Sadly, for schools like Rupeho Junior Primary School, Olavi Sivhute Combined School and other open-air schools with a classroom number of less than 75, their pupils’ numbers are not large enough to be included in this budget.
ν N$644 000 m – the amount government allocated for education infrastructure for the 2013-2014 financial year
ν 83% – the percentage of state libraries offering free public ICT access
ν 4 – the number of years government has to complete the teachers’ housing project
ν N$86,5 million – the amount government has invested in teachers’ housing for the 2013-2014 financial year.
ν 3 000 – the number of teachers that are currently unqualified nationwide
This article was written by Theresia Tjihenuna and originally published by The Namibian.