COMMENT: Grade 7 exam fees defy common sense

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The government’s determination to introduce Grade 7 examination fees despite universal disapproval is symptomatic of the arrogant rule by Zanu PF.

Primary and Secondary Education minister Lazarus Dokora first announced the introduction of the examination fees in April but he was told by educators, parents and civil society that his proposals were not realistic and had to be canned.

Dokora was told that introducing such fees would worsen the already alarming school dropout rate as most children can no longer afford the existing charges for basic education.

The minister was reminded of the parlous state of the economy that has seen thousands of breadwinners losing their jobs as companies close down in their numbers.

A number of companies and even government institutions are also failing to pay their employees on time owing to the economic meltdown. Dokora was advised to hold on to the proposals until the economy is back on its feet and a sensitive government would have taken heed of the advice.

However, predictably Dokora’s deputy Paul Mavima, on Wednesday told the National Assembly that the Grade 7 examination fees had been set. He said schoolchildren would start paying a dollar from Grade 5 so that by the time they write their school-leaving examinations the cumulative figure is at $3. At face value the figure may appear nominal but the poverty levels in Zimbabwe have gone beyond being obscene and many guardians would fail to pay the fees. Zimbabwe has one of the highest number of orphaned children due to the HIV pandemic and social safety nets are virtually non-existent.

The government has for some time been unable to pay school fees for vulnerable children under the Basic Education Assistance Module and the vote for the Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare ministry in the National Budget remains a pittance.

Dokora and the Zanu PF government are largely to blame for this mess yet they want to be on the forefront of punishing innocent children. The government cannot abdicate its responsibility to provide affordable education to all Zimbabwean children regardless of their status in society. It defies logic that a lot of money is spent on President Robert Mugabe’s scholarship fund that sends students to expensive South African universities yet the government cannot adequately give primary school children a basic education at reasonable costs.

Dokora’s ministry has also been busy crafting education policies that would burden parents and guardians further financially such as the re-introduction of the building levy and languages such as Chinese, French, Portuguese and Kiswahili into the curriculum at primary level.

The government’s preoccupation should be sustainable economic growth before trying to implement policies that foster cost recovery for essential services such as education. Zanu PF often boasts that its legacy was making education accessible to all but the policies that the current administration is pursuing would wipe away whatever gains remain of the strides made in the early years of independence. Dokora has to rethink some of these policies he is trying to force down the throat of long-suffering Zimbabweans and the issue of Grade 7 examination fees should top the priority list.

Instead of burdening parents further, the government must be devising ways of rescuing them from the hell hole it created by collapsing the economy through reckless policies.