A PARLIAMENTARY debate on the state of education in the country last week exposed Primary and Secondary Education minister Lazarus Dokora as not well-versed with what is happening in his ministry.
Senators had demanded to know from Dokora why schoolchildren were continuously chased away for non-payment of fees when government issued a circular to say no child should be excluded for that reason.
But Dokora told the Senate in situations where parents were genuinely incapable of paying fees, their children should be covered by the government’s Basic Education Assistance Module (Beam) scheme.
This is despite the fact that the scheme has virtually collapsed due to poor government funding and pupils under the programme were being chased away from school.
“For those children whose parents cannot afford to pay school fees, they are covered by Beam. However, for any child to be covered by Beam, it means that they have to be at school so that the adjudication committee can recognise them,” said Dokora.
He added: “A guardian is supposed to pay fees as stipulated by the Constitution and what should happen is that if parents fail to pay those fees, they should approach headmasters to negotiate a payment plan.”
In January this year, principal director of Social Welfare Sydney Mhishi told Parliament that 900 000 children under Beam might find themselves out of school due to lack of funding.
He said the department needed $28 million, but was only allocated a meagre $15 million from the 2014 National Budget.
The money was enough to pay for 83 000 children only, meaning that the rest are not attending school although the country’s Constitution stipulates that every child in Zimbabwe should have access to education.
In their initial bid for the 2014 budget allocation, the Social Welfare department had requested for $73 million to cover children’s fees under Beam.
The senators also said some children were being victimised for non-payment of fees while some parents were being arraigned before traditional courts in rural areas to force them to pay money they owed as schools fees for their children.
Masvingo Senator Misheck Marava (MDC-T) demanded to know from Dokora if it was right for parents to be dragged before traditional chiefs when education was a human rights issue.
Dokora, however, said if the allegations were true, then he would respect the decisions of the traditional courts.
“We respect all courts even those in rural areas that are presided over by chiefs, and if the chiefs are helping schools to recover amounts owed in school fees, then it is a good move,” Dokora said.
In the Lower House, MPs also quizzed Deputy Minister of Primary and Secondary Education Paul Mavima about the issue of school fees vis-a-vis the children’s right to education.
Musikavanhu MP Prosper Mutseyami (MDC-T) said some teachers had developed new systems to deal with non-payment of fees whereby children whose fees were not paid were nowadays not sent back home but ordered to spend the day playing on the playground.
Other pupils were being ordered to face opposite the chalkboard so that they would not benefit from lessons like those whose fees were fully paid.
“Those who have not paid anything spend the whole day singing or playing games outside whilst those who paid are with the teacher learning,” said Mutseyami. “At some schools those who have not paid are ordered to face opposite the board, and therefore, we need to be serious when we talk about non-payment of fees and not send children who did not pay away from school.”
Bulawayo East MP Thabita Khumalo (MDC-T) said failure by government to pay civil servants’ salaries on their usual pay dates was affecting payment of fees for their children.
Like his boss, Mavima said no child should be sent away adding those with evidence of a school which was excluding students for non-payment should report to the Education ministry.