THERE are growing concerns that Zimbabwe’s worsening economic situation could lead to the collapse of the education system and a spike in school dropouts after most schools exorbitantly hiked fees, with some demanding between $25 000 and $40 000 for the two months the pupils will be in school starting Monday.
BY DESMOND CHINGARANDE
Public schools reopen for examination classes on Monday after being forced to close in March this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.Other classes will reopen in two phases, with the last group on November 9.
But parents with children attending Chishawasha Mission Primary School, Moleli, Matopo, Gokomere, Dadaya and Prince Edward among others have raised alarm after the school authorities charged upwards of US$341 for examination classes that will be attending lessons for the two months before writing their exams.
In a newsletter to the parents, Chishawasha Mission Primary School also requested parents to provide the school with 20kg bags of mealie-meal, 5kg rice, 5kg machine washing powder, 1-litre floor polish, 12 bath soaps among several demands per pupil.
In addition to the demands, Chishawasha demanded parents to pay a revised fee of US$341 and $19 800 before opening day.
“Following parents’ meeting which was held on September 16, 2020 at Our Lady of the Wayside in Mount Pleasant, it was agreed that the option of groceries be adopted at a revised fee of US$341 plus groceries. It was also agreed that the sum of US$100 be paid in full hard currency and the balance is optional to be paid in RTGS or US dollars,” the newsletter read.
But parents, who requested anonymity for fear victimisation of their children, felt that the school authorities were “robbing” them, saying one pupil could not exhaust a 20kg bag of mealie-meal and that the several demands were way above other schools across the country.
“Look what they are demanding for a Grade 7 pupil as compared to other schools. The fees and other demands are way out of the parents’ reach,” one parent said.
Chishawasha school secretary, who declined to be named, said: “I cannot respond to the allegations. I am only the secretary of the school. The person who can respond to you is the principal and is not around you can try other times.”
The principal could not be reached for comment.
Parents at Eaglesvale junior and senior schools have also written to Primary and Secondary Education minister Cain Mathema protesting over the exorbitant school fees, arguing the school was fleecing them of their hard-earned cash.
The parents said the school was rating US$1 to $95 despite the official Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe foreign currency auction system rate.
They said the school fees were currently pegged at US$1 000 for primary school up to Form 4 on both online and examination classes, while A-Level students are being asked to pay US$1 100.
“If you do not pay, online lessons are not optional and are being forced on parents. If you did not pay, the school sends threats to your email that your child should transfer. They also need to justify paying US$1 000 online because parents feel it’s too high, even in formal class,” the parents wrote.
The parents also complained that they were forced to pay US dollars at the school office and not into the school bank account, thereby risking falling prey to armed robbers.
The school’s financial controller, one Mukoko, referred NewsDay Weekender to the school head, whose mobile phone number was not reachable.
Another parent who requested anonymity said other schools like Moleli High had proposed $39 000 to be paid for all the examination classes, Dadaya proposed $38 450 and Matopo High proposed $25 800 plus US$50, while Mutendi High School in Masvingo was demanding about $32 000 or US$320.
Gokomere pegged its fees at $29 000. Day schools like Prince Edward in Harare have also reportedly hiked their fees to around US$350 or the equivalent in Zimdollars.
However, Primary and Secondary Education deputy minister Edgar Moyo called on the schools to stick to government guidelines when increasing or coming up with new fees structures.
He said it was illegal for schools to use an exchange rate for US dollars which was different from the one prescribed by the RBZ auction system.
“Our position as government in terms of school fees increase is that the school development committee sits and comes up with an agreement on the rightful fees agreed by both parties,” Moyo said.
“They then write a recommendation to the permanent secretary of the ministry for approval. The receipts of the previous fee and the proposed new fees must be tied together for the permanent secretary to assess if it is worth approving.”
He added: “It is illegal for schools to use their exchange rate which is different from the official rate allowed by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. I want to reiterate that education must not be commercialised and it must not be a barrier to our children.”
Several schools have been plunged into turmoil with debates rising on the appropriate fees to charge for examination classes.