No respite for broke Zimbos… as govt approves steep fees hikes for public schools

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© THE nightmare of unaffordably-high school fees has become a reality for stressed parents and their children, after the government yesterday gave public schools the green light to increase levies and boarding fees, the Daily News reports.
This comes despite recent pronouncements by authorities that no school would be allowed to hike its fees by more than 20 percent without the government’s approval — statements that have come to be proven as hollow.
Addressing journalists in Harare yesterday, the acting Primary and Secondary Education minister, Amon Murwira, said the government had only barred schools from increasing their tuition fees — which constitute a small percentage of the total amount parents and guardians have to part with.
“Concerning boarding fees, food fees, those are subject to market forces … Schools have been given guidelines on how to proceed (on this).
“There is a circular that stipulates how parents meet, consider their expenses and agree on a fee they think can feed their children.
“Government does not own grocery shops. So, if 20 percent of the parents meet … and if they agree on what they can pay, who are we to say no?” Murwira said.
Regarding tuition fees, he warned that public schools that defied the directive not to increase fees by more than the stipulated amounts would face disciplinary action.
“Provincial education directors, district schools inspectors and heads of public schools should stand guided by the circular which has been dispatched to them,” he said adding that private schools that were charging fees in foreign currency also risked being deregistered.
Murwira also revealed that the government had little control on private schools that charged exorbitant fees — saying as long as parents agreed on a figure, this would be in order.
“All I said is that it is illegal to charge in foreign currency and the punishment for that is deregistration of the school,” he said.
This comes amid reports that some government and mission boarding schools are charging between $10 000 and $12 000 in total fees a term.
Many schools have also resorted to selling uniforms, often at exorbitant prices, as part of their fund-raising initiatives — although parents argue that some administrators are allegedly using this to enrich themselves.
This comes as the Daily News had recently warned in a lead story that parents and their children were facing a new double whammy of sky-high school fees and a severe national shortage of affordable boarding places for students starting Form 1 this year.
The newspaper reported that this had thrown preparations for the start of the 2020 learning calendar into disarray, particularly as this came as both schools and families were already reeling from the country’s worst economic crisis in a decade.
So acute is the shortage of boarding schools that only a paltry 24 000 pupils out of a total of 326 685 learners who completed Grade 7 in 2019 will be able to secure full-lodge places.
As a result, Primary and Secondary Education minister Cain Mathema said recently that the bulk of students who completed Grade 7 last year would be forced to start their secondary education in day schools due to the serious shortage of boarding schools in the country.
“We estimate that about 100 000 learners are seeking boarding places. Those who will not be successful in securing boarding places will, therefore, be accommodated at day schools in their school zones.
“I am, therefore, inviting the private sector to partner with government and the ministry for us to build more schools to meet the demand and to improve the infrastructure at our schools for both classrooms and teachers’ accommodation,” he said then.
Mathema also revealed that the country had a deficit of 2 500 schools overall.
The scramble for boarding places at government schools in particular was triggered by the worsening economic situation in the country, which has seen most parents pulling out their children from expensive private schools.
This comes as some schools are now charging fees in foreign currency, while others have indexed theirs against the United States dollar.
According to fees schedules that were released by most private schools recently, parents will have to pay through their noses — with one school charging a mind-blowing $100 000 a term for a boarding place.
Another school, Knowstics Academy — for example — has increased fees to US$2 800 or $61 000 for girls and to US$3 200 or $70 400 for boys, while newcomers are expected to pay US$4 500 or $99 000.
For parents wishing to send their children to other elite schools such as the famed Peterhouse in Marondera, they will have to fork out $75 000 a term.
Gateway School Trust has also dramatically hiked fees for all its schools.
Their new fees structure sees Early Child Development (ECD) pupils paying $14 700, Grade 1 to 7 $17 500, Advanced Certificate in Education (ACE) $21 000, Form 1 to 4 $22 400 and Sixth Form students $23 100.
For St Georges College, the tuition fee in the local currency is now pegged at $24 000.
But foreign students at the school have to pay US$1 500 for tuition and US$1 250 for boarding places.
Mathema told the Daily News late last year that his ministry, which is mandated to approve school fees, had not sanctioned any hikes for this term.
“According to the Education Amendment Act 2006, no responsible authority of any non-governmental school may seek to increase fees or levies in excess levels unless the proposal has been approved by a majority of parents at a meeting of the school attended by no less than 20 percent of the parents.
“As such, I will have to investigate the matter and advise on the appropriate action that will be taken,” he said.
The issue of “over the top” school fees was also raised in Parliament last year by the chairperson of the portfolio committee on Primary and Secondary Education, Priscillah Misihairabwi-Mushonga — who complained that her committee had noted that some schools were charging “astronomical” fees.
“I really want, as a matter of urgency, the minister of Primary and Secondary Education to come and address this House on these particular issues because they are urgent,” she said.

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