Expelling pupils over fees draws mixed reactions

In  Zimbabwe, basic education is a constitutionally guaranteed right which should be accessible to every child.
Section 4 Article 2 of the Education Act provides that “no child in Zimbabwe shall (a) be refused admission to any school; or (b) be discriminated against by the imposition of onerous terms and conditions in regard to his (or her) admission to any school . . .”

But of late, the constitutional requirements have not been entirely abided by.

A number of schools, among them Girls High School in Harare, stand accused of breaking the law by blocking children from class and mid-year examinations for defaulting on tuition fees.

Various sources confirmed that the acts are rampant in Harare, adding that some schools are going as far as holding on to defaulters’ Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council (Zimsec) results.

This is despite a 2013 Government moratorium which bars schools from expelling children for non-payment of school fees.

As such, parents and stakeholders have roundly rebuked the transgressors for “blatantly violating fundamental human rights and freedoms”.

“It is illegal to inflict such stringent rules on children because it denies them their right to education,” says Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) president, Dr Takavafira Zhou.

Dr Zhou said schools and parents should map out a working solution to raise funds, rather than expelling children.

Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president, Mr Obert Masaraure, says some children in rural areas are failing to access their Zimsec results as schools are demanding full payment of fees.

And this has deprived children a chance to progress to the next stage of their studies.

The Permanent Secretary for Primary and Secondary Education, Dr Sylvia Utete-Masango, warned that the schools involved risk disciplinary action.

“However, we appeal to parents to honour their payment plans and settle their debts.”

As for allegations against Girls High School, Dr Masango said she is yet to receive a report and get their side of the story.

Dr Zhou, however, understands the frustrations of the schools.

He said schools need money to run smoothly and without other sources of funding, they rely heavily on school fees.

“The challenge is that schools need to function properly and for them to do so, parents must pay schools fees,” he said.

“But on the other hand, it is unfair to impose stringent laws which deny children their constitutional right to education.

“Therefore, there is need for parents and schools to strike a balance and come up with a working solution.”

Mr Masaraure said Government should provide basic education since parents are evidently struggling to pay fees.

“Rural schools are in a serious crisis as parents only pay fees in the first term when they will be seeking to secure placement for their kids,” he said.

“The economic hardships being experienced countrywide have forced many parents to renege on their fees obligations.

“Government should assume its constitutional obligation of funding basic education.”

The Education Act provides the right to basic education.

“Every citizen and permanent resident of Zimbabwe has a right to (a) a basic state funded education, including adult basic education and; (b) further education, which the State, through reasonable legislative and other measures, must make progressively available and accessible,” reads Section 75 Article 1 of the Constitution.

Statutes go on to state that the Government should ensure lowest possible fees consistent with the maintenance of high standards of education.

The Minister is also expected to encourage the attainment of this objective by every appropriate means, including the making of grants and other subsidies to schools.

The 2018 budget statement shows that the education sector received the lion’s share of $935,8 million of the national budget.

Of this amount, $848,8, almost 90 percent of the total was gobbled by salaries while operations and maintenance take $69,6 million.

Capital expenditures accounted for $17,4 million. Very little went to supporting students.

Renowned educationist Dr Caiphus Nziramasanga, in the 1999 commission of inquiry, found that the public expected Government to fund education.

“In the submissions from every corner of the country, the people said Government must bear the brunt of financing education,” he said.

“The fact that approximately 94 percent of the education budget is earmarked for salaries is an indication that the core business of the Ministry of Education is very seriously compromised.

“The commission is concerned with the scenario where very little is left for educational development. This scenario indicates that there is a serious problem in the budgeting process and it needs to be addressed.”

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