Govt to control school fees increases

BY VENERANDA LANGA

PRIMARY and Secondary Education minister Paul Mavima has allayed fears of a possible fee hike following a spate of price increases after the government scrapped off official use of the United States dollar, saying only modest fee hikes of between $600 and $1 200 will be permitted as parents grapple with economic hardships.

Mavima told the Senate during a question-and-answer session on Thursday as Senators grilled him over stiff school fees increases.

The minister said his ministry would keep a tight leash on government-owned and faith-based institutions — whose teachers earn salaries from government coffers
— to ensure that education remained affordable for the majority.

Mavima, however, noted that private schools run by trusts, some of which charge fees in United States dollars, will not be affected by the control regiment as
government had no direct control over them.

“Before government and faith-based schools increase their fees, they have to seek authority from the Primary and Secondary Education ministry, but we do not
have direct control over private schools run by trusts, which are about 70 in the country, and they have increased fees to astronomical levels,” he said.

Mavima said at very expensive schools like Peterhouse College in Marondera, parents signed fees contracts, with the school agreeing to as much as US$5 000 per
term.

The minister said government and mission schools would only be permitted to slightly adjust their fees by between $600 and $1 200, depending on their current
fee structures.

“We have, therefore, allowed for modest increases in school fees to about $600 and $800 and for some schools from $800 to $1 200, but there are some schools
that clandestinely further increased their fees and even asked parents to bring groceries, of which the lists were even outside this world and we ensured this
does not happen,” he said.

Mavima said under the new Education Amendment Act, which was passed in the National Assembly on Tuesday, the Competitiveness Commission should take control of
the situation and carry out value-for-money audits to ensure that fees charged were under control.

“In other schools, parents’ bodies sit with the responsible authorities. For example, there is one school which is charging $35 000 per term and you need to
understand that it was a mutual agreement between parents and the school,” he said.

“However, you get a few parents who then say they were not told about the increase. Traditionally, those schools are not under the control of the ministry, as
they are trust schools.”

Senators argued that most schoolchildren would be unable to attend lessons because boarding schools were now charging as much as $2 000 per term, when salaries
of many parents remained stagnant at lower than $1 000.

He said government and mission schools should apply to the ministry’s permanent secretary so the ministry could check if the fee increase proposals were fair.

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