The school calendar starts on Tuesday next week amid confusion over government’s decision to freeze school fees increases, and uncertainty on whether teachers will get salary increments.
Even worse is the fact that the cost of taking a child to Form One has gone beyond reach for most parents considering that salaries have remained stagnant while many more have lost their jobs following company closures in the past year.
School fees for Form One pupils at government and some mission schools range between $20 and $1 200, while most private schools range from $1 300 to almost $3 000 for day scholars, and private boarding schools charge more than $5 000. As if that is not enough, parents are forced to purchase uniforms from schools at steep prices.
Going to school is a big step, but increasing prices of uniforms to astronomical levels is a threat to educating the nation. The sudden increase in the price of uniforms and stationery a few days before schools open for the first term is a serious indictment on the part of government whose pro-poor policies are degenerating.
There is no doubt the skyrocketing costs of education in the country can lead a parent to wonder if an investment in education still makes sense considering the high levels of unemployment in the country.
For those parents who still have a number of years before their children reach high school age, doing the math can make the dream of educating their kids sound more like a nightmare.
There is no doubt education costs are increasing faster than most of the other areas of life, and show no signs of slowing.
We are aware that parents are already battling with other household expenses in an environment where salaries have remained stagnant. There is, therefore, no real justification to increase prices of uniforms.
We have not heard government speaking against this kind of greed even though authorities are aware that the majority of workers have not received any salary increases since the adoption of the multicurrency regime. Furthermore, most companies have in the last few years closed shop as the economy is failing to tick.
The costs of education should be at the core of any people-centred government. Dealing with school fees only is not enough, as parents have been short-changed by schools which have become uniform retailers. Then there are other schools which insist that uniforms should be bought from selected stores.
The absence of choice means parents and guardians are forced to make purchases at inflated prices. This practice breeds corruption and profiteering and should be discontinued.
The government must make a careful evaluation of the fees being levied by schools as the range is too wide.
The high fees being charged are not necessarily commensurate with the quality of results being produced at the schools.
The cost of school uniforms must also be assessed critically to ensure that parents invest more resources in learning materials and not in expensive school dress.