Find us on Google+

Monday, 11 July 2011

Should education be free?

Fascinating answers from Namibia where education is already free from Grade 1 to Grade 10 (ages of 6 and 16). The question is whether it should be extended to Grade 12, and government should now provide for everything (at present it pays only for fees up to Grade 10, without uniforms, books and hostel fees for those in boarding schools) :

Yes :
"It is a question of political will. If Cuba could do it, why can't we? We should be informed through research and can't decide on one industry that should drive resources towards education. Free education has its advantages. Chances will be very little that a 14-year-old would be sitting at home because they can't afford school fees. Education should be free at least up to secondary level to solve problems such as illiteracy. The sooner free education is introduced, the better." (UNAM Lecturer)
No :
"I don't think education should be free. The system contributes so much and the State is lenient towards those parents that can't afford to pay school fees. We have the most benevolent system in Namibia, where 22 per cent of the total budget is given to education, about one quarter of the total budget. It is the single largest commitment in Africa. The problem of dropouts is not because of affordability, families take their children out of school to contribute to income at home." (Administrator at Polytechnic of Namibia)

Yes & No:
"It depends on what we understand by free education. Some interpret it as parents having no absolute responsibility towards their children's education besides the State. As a third world country, we have not achieved much to guarantee 100 per cent free education. In European countries, they can afford free education because they are well off. With all due respect, Botswana and Zimbabwe (where free education is or was provided) still come short." (Veteran educationalist & politician)


  1. Those of us who had free education under Kaunda do think it's still achievable. Mind you in those days not many got very far in their education because places were limited and allocated based on academic ability.
    To educate a much larger number we need to make education a higher priority. More important than, say, the office of the president (what purpose do they serve?) or the defense forces (who do we need to defend against when our enemies are ignorance and poverty?) More important indeed than subsidizing our neighboring countries mealie meal which we are currently able to afford for some reason?
    What is also needed badly is to vastly broaden education so that a child who is academically poor but good with her/his hands can still become a builder, plumber or welder. At present one needs good academic results to get into technical school. These are not necessarily those with manual ability and dexterity. As a result there is a serious shortage of skilled technical people.
    If we can't have free education then at least we should do away with the hypocrisy of calling education free and then not funding the water bill, maintenance, text books, chalk, sports, drama, debates, JETS fairs and so on so that parents still have to pay if they want more than just a teacher for their child.
    If there was not so much corruption in our systems we should at least have free education for orphans and other vulnerable groups. It is sad how many intelligent children are dropping out of secondary education over lack of K220,000 or a pair of shoes and how many bright school leavers cannot go to college.
    The basic problem with education funding is that it is a long term investment with a twenty year payoff and no politician can see further than the next election. So it comes down to the rest of us to force them to prioritize it or lose our votes.
    The benefits will be 3% GDP growth for every year added and a huge reduction in the population growth rate from educating girls.

  2. I couldn’t have said it much better myself. We need long range planning for education if we’re indeed going to achieve middle income status by 2030 or whatever the target date is. This should be from pre-school all the way through university/college/technical school. Building schools is just one step.

    We need to have a proper structure put together in terms of funding – we should not be depending on DFID or World Bank to do this. Our own tax base should support this, which means everyone must pay their fair share (individuals, corporations, etc). Don’t tax my mother through the nose while mining companies skate through with “our extractive processes run at extremely low margins, so can’t pay.”

    And beyond funding the system adequately, we need to a robust education system that supports children and adults with varying abilities and goals. We cannot continue to have a system that just produces doctors, lawyers and engineers – who we end up educating for wealthier nations. We need an educated and skilled labour force that will support all sectors of the economy, that way we can effectively counter arguments for having prison labour from China coming to lay bricks and pour asphalt.

    Knowing all this, shouldn’t be demanding action from our elected representatives?

  3. firstly zambian economist the information in this article is wrong. primary as well as secondary education is not free in nambia. an average of about K300,000/term is paid in a gov school.
    secondly i don't subscrib to the notion of free education for all. for some yes. during the KK days gov paid for everyone even those who could afford.
    this is
    1. do you pay for someone who can afford.they gov should have created a system that identifies those who cannot afford and let those who can to pay on their on.
    2. is't unfair to the guy who cannot cannot afford. in effect the poor guy is contributing more to the education fund than the rich guy.

    lastly free education for all is the most poor policy that we can ever unsustainable the past has shown us.we need to control to control our appetite instead of just borrowing from the future to satisfy all our needs for today. their is no justification for the KKs to take all of us to school for free, run our coffers dry as a result and leave behind a broke country that cannot educate our children.

    their is no evidence to show that free education has resulted is more people being educated, that it lead to quality education or that it leads to a robust nation

    namibia certainly has affordable education, a quarter of it budget dedicated to education, over 90% of the educational system gov controlled but still has a drop out rate as big and perhaps bigger than making it free will make things better?

  4. Aaron,

    Thanks for highlighting the funding question.

    Will look into it and will get back with any corrections.

    I was under the impression primary school education is free, in line with the Constitution.

  5. zambia Economist actually primary education is not free for anyone in exceptions even gov run kindergartens are not free.

  6. I will have a seminar about "Free education is impractical" . I wish anyone can give me any link that can provide me the best Idea about this. I did search at google but it's not very clear... Please send the link to this email :


All contributors should follow the basic principles of a productive dialogue: communicate their perspective, ask, comment, respond,and share information and knowledge, but do all this with a positive approach.

This is a friendly website. However, if you feel compelled to comment 'anonymously', you are strongly encouraged to state your location / adopt a unique nick name so that other commentators/readers do not confuse your comments with other individuals also commenting anonymously.