Saturday, 24 October 2020

GOVT OKAYS MASSIVE SCHOOL FEES HIKE

GOVERNMENT has approved a steep hike in school fees, which will see some pupils at boarding and urban day high schools forking out in excess of $55 000 up from $6 000 and $20 000 up from $3 000, respectively.

NewsDay Weekender has also heard that some schools are demanding payments in United States dollars for non-examination classes set to return to school on Monday.

This comes amid complaints by parents and guardians that the fees were too high considering that the term was short and most teachers were on strike.

Teachers’ unions described the increases as “daylight robbery” and insisted that their members would continue with their industrial action until government has addressed their demands for a pay hike.

Primary and Secondary Education minister Cain Mathema yesterday confirmed the fees hike, adding that no parent had formally raised objections with his ministry.

“No parent has complained to the ministry, every parent or guardian knows what needs to be done,” he said.

Schools reopened for examination classes on September 28 following a six-month break triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The second batch of students comprising Grade 6 and Forms Three and Lower Sixth will report for lessons on Monday while the last batch is expected on November 9.

Schools such as Catholic-run Gokomere and Silveira, Rusununguko and Prince Edward, among others, have reviewed their fees upwards with the latter now demanding $55 000 for boarders and $20 000 for day scholars.

Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) president Takavafira Zhou said the fees were certainly beyond the reach of many parents, particularly civil servants.

“Our position is that parents must stop paying fees until teachers and government find each other over teachers’ welfare, health and safety. Sending kids to school when teachers are not teaching is a waste of time; the fees are certainly beyond the reach of many parents, particularly teachers,” Zhou said.

Parents interviewed by NewsDay Weekender said school heads just presented them with figures ranging from $28 000 to $55 000 and asked them to vote.

“The process was not clear, we were just told figures to choose from and those figures will be presented to the government as coming from the parents. We are still under COVID-19, where our incomes were affected. Where will we get that money?” a parent whose child is at Rusungunguko asked.

A parent with children at Price Edward in Harare asked: “Where can we get the $50 000 demanded by the school?”

Other schools like Roosevelt also announced fees ranging from between $33 000 and $40 000, depending on pupils’ subject combinations. 

Parents of day scholars paid about $3 000 at Prince Edward before COVID-19, while boarding students at Roosevelt paid about $6 200.

Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta) chief executive officer Sifiso Ndlovu said fees were effected in consultation with the parents.

“The onus to justify the fees level lies with school responsible authorities in liaison with parents and guardians of concerned learners,” he said.

“Obviously there are economic reasons justifying the increases. Complaints are appropriately directed to the initiators of those because there is no school head with capacity to individually raise fees without concurrence of SDCs and authority from ministry. If there are such transgressions, then the affected school heads are wrong and punching above their weight.”

But Zhou said some school heads manipulated the parents by giving them inflated figures to choose from.

“Is it a choice when you give parents options beyond their ability? Schools must produce a reasonable budget that must be presented to parents and on the basis of its reasonableness, parents can then deliberate over the amount to be paid. The majority of parents with kids at a school must attend such a meeting with more than 51% of parents’ casting votes over an agreed figure,” he said.

“Sadly, school heads have learnt ways of cutting corners and even get government approval of fees without following appropriate procedures. Heads manipulate attendance registers so that they are presented as consent over a figure that even parents would have shot down, while in some cases, heads bribe authorities at provincial level to get fees approvals. Some fees are even unilateral, pegged by schools without input from parents.”

Meanwhile, teachers’ unions yesterday maintained that their members would not go back to school until government has addressed their salary issues.

In a joint petition, dated October 23 and addressed to President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zimta, PTUZ, Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Rural Teachers of Union, Zimbabwe Democratic Teachers Union, Amalgamated Teachers Union of Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe National Teachers Union, said their members were genuinely incapacitated and could not report for duty.

“Our members are not demanding a salary or something out of this world. Teachers simply want restoration of the purchasing power of their salaries as they have existed before October 2018. Considering that the economy has dollarised, it is prudent that the teachers be paid the pre-October 2018 US$520 or its equivalent using the prevailing interbank rate.”

The teachers pleaded with Mnangagwa to intervene and resolve the crisis urgently for the benefit of examination classes.

This comes amid reports that idle students were engaging in sex orgies and drug abuse due to lack of supervision. Newsday

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