Sunday, 8 March 2020

EDUCATION NOW COMPULSORY, PARENTS FACE JAIL


It is now compulsory for all children to attend school from early childhood development (ECD) level before Grade One all the way to Form Four and parents who deprive their children of those 12 years of education can be fined or jailed for up to two years.

The Education Amendment Act gazetted on Friday states in two clauses that “every child shall be entitled to compulsory basic State-funded education” and that “any parent who deprives their child of the right to basic State-funded education shall be guilty of an offence”.

The maximum fine for parents found guilty is level 6, now set at $4 800, or to a maximum of two years’ imprisonment. Magistrates have discretion to impose lighter fines or lower jail terms, depending on mitigating and aggravating features. Thus a well-off person next door to a suitable school is more likely to be hammered with a steep fine or jail term than a poor parent far from a school, but who promises to reform instantly.

The clauses replace a non-mandatory clause that stated compulsory primary education was an objective and parents had a duty to send their children to primary school. 

The same amendment Act defines basic State-funded education as education from ECD up to Form Four, adult education up to Form Four, and any other category declared by the Minister of Primary and Secondary Education in a gazetted notice.

The same definition states that pupils shall not be required to pay fees or levies and that the State shall provide them with learning and teaching material, facilities, infrastructure and resources.

However the amendment Act does not abolish school fees and in fact in another amended clause states that the Education Minister shall continue to set school fees at State schools and when doing so shall take into account the “location and status” of the schools.

No administrative details have been announced yet on how the compulsory clauses will be implemented, but the ministry policy in the past has been that parents who can afford to pay fees 

should pay, and that schools should sue parents who can but do not. At the same time the Government has introduced funds to pay fees of children whose parents cannot afford them and the budget for this was increased this year.

The amendment Act also brings into law administrative policies already followed by the Ministry. First no pupil can be excluded from school for non-payment of school fees; and secondly every child of school-going age is entitled to be enrolled at the primary or secondary Government school nearest to their home unless that school is already full, when the head of the school must issue a written certificate stating this. This second clause significantly strengthens a previous clause now repealed.

These two clauses should help to create the necessary administrative climate to enforce compulsory education.

While most Zimbabwean families do send their children to school until form four, there is a significant minority who do not, with teenage girls particularly in danger of early withdrawal from the school system either through parental poverty or because of serious ultra-traditionalist views of the place of women in society, usually by parents who also believe in early marriage of girls.

Girls get further support in the amendment Act. The State now has to ensure the provision of sanitary ware and other menstrual health facilities to girls in all schools and “no pupil can be excluded from school … on the basis of pregnancy”.

The rights of all in education are enhanced. 

No one can now “be discriminated against by the imposition of onerous terms and conditions in regard to his or her admission to, suspended, excluded or expelled from any school on the grounds of his or her nationality, race, colour, tribe, place of birth, ethnic or social origin, language, class, religious belief, political affiliation, opinion, custom, culture, sex, gender, marital status, age, pregnancy, disability or economic or social status, or whether they were born in or out of wedlock.”

Local authorities have to provide land for school infrastructure.

Non-Government schools are now placed in two categories for the required registration. Government, local authority and “non-profit faith-based schools” do not have to pay registration or annual fees. Non-Government schools not falling in to the non-profit faith-based category must pay the prescribed fees. There has been a growing number of private schools run as businesses in recent years.

The long debate over language teaching has been resolved in the amended Act in a single clause.

In the first sub-clause, every school shall endeavour to teach every officially recognised language, a declaration of desire rather than compulsion, but must ensure that the language of instruction is the language of examination and ensure that the mother tongue id the language of instruction at early childhood education, two declarations of compulsion.

The Minister’s power op regulation have been extended to include the use of emerging technologies, the manner of conducting feeding schemes and how to manage cases if sexual abuse.

Pupil discipline is now moved into law from the previous position of administrative policy.

Responsible authorities have to draw up a disciplinary policy for all schools, meeting standards set out in the Minister’s regulations. 

Neither the Minister’s regulations nor the school policies shall permit treatment that does not respect the dignity of the pupil, or that amounts to physical or psychological torture, or to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.

Disciplinary measures must be moderate, reasonable and proportionate in light of conduct, age, sex health and circumstances of the pupil and must be in the best interests of the child. No pupil can be suspended without first being granted, with their parents, to make representations. Caning is totally banned.

Disabled pupils get a break. All registered schools shall provide infrastructure, s”subject to availability of resources” suitable for use by pupils with disabilities and the Secretary of the Ministry shall monitor and enter the premises of all registered schools to ensure the rights of pupils with disabilities are taken into account during teaching and learning. All schools have to submit a plan when setting fees explaining how they shall advance the rights of pupils with disabilities. Herald

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