At least 56 percent of children living in rural areas were turned away from school for non-payment of tuition fees between 2017 and 2018, an annual rural livelihoods study released last week shows.
The study, which was conducted by the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee, also shows that up to 66 percent of children in Manicaland Province were turned away.
Masvingo, 63 percent and Mashonaland West, 56 percent, also make up the top three of provinces with the highest number of pupils who were barred from class.
This is despite Government’s policy which prohibits schools from dismissing defaulters but rather encourages them to find other ways of raising funds.
“Though the Government has made a pronouncement that no child should be turned away from school, the proportion of those turned away remains high at a minimum of 49 percent across all provinces,” reads the report.
And this has fundamentally affected school attendance as it declined from 88 percent in 2017 to 72 percent in 2018.
“The major reason why children of school-going age were not attending school were financial constraints,” the report reads.
“For the 4 to 6 age group, the most reported reason was child considered too young (49 percent) followed by financial constraints (31 percent) and distance to school too far (13 percent).
“Approximately 11 percent of the 14 to 17 years age group were not in school because they had completed O or A-Level.”
The proportion of school-going children of the 14-17 years age group was much lower than that of the 7-13 age group across all provinces.
And there was no significant difference in school attendance by sex.
The development is tellingly reflected by the level of education of family heads in the country side. All provinces had at least 71 percent of household heads who had attained primary level and above.
“Matabeleland South (29 percent) and Midlands (26 percent) had the highest proportion of household heads who had not attained primary education.”
Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president, Mr Orbert Masaraure, acknowledged the dire situation in rural areas saying the parents could not pay.
“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 country wide have forced many parents to renege on their fees obligations. Government should assume its constitutional obligation of funding basic education.”
Mr Masaraure condemned schools which are in the habit of turning away pupils saying this amounts to denying them their constitutionally guaranteed right.
With the rural economy almost dead Mr Masaraure believes it will be a long time before parents can afford to pay fees for their children.
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) president Dr Takavafira Zhou echoed the same sentiments.
“It is illegal to inflict such stringent rules on children because it denies them their right to education,” he said.
Government is on record saying that turning away children for non-payment of school fees is illegal.
As such the Permanent Secretary for Primary and Secondary Education, Dr Sylvia Utete-Masango, warned that the involved schools risk disciplinary action.
“Our policy is very clear and it has never changed, schools and parents should work together and find solutions to raise funds.”
A local education consultant, Mr Rupert McThune, said rural schools in Zimbabwe still need a lot of assistance in terms of funding since parents and guardians are not yet capable of funding schools.
“I participated in the Nziramasanga Commission of Inquiry and what repeatedly came out was the expectation that Government should fund education,” he says.
“Economy-wise, nothing has really changed in the rural areas, if anything it has it has declined and this is impacting negatively on education.”
Fees has been a contentious issue since Government made it an offence to turn away children from school.
Whilst the country’s education system was meant to be entirely free in 1980, parents had to pay sports fees for buying equipment and material. There were also building fees for developing the schools.
Research shows that after the Structural Adjustment programme of 1992 all goods and services were priced at market value and education ceased to be free.
Rural primary schools in Zimbabwe presently cost around $15 for fees per term whilst a parent will pay an average of $35 for an urban primary school child.
Secondary education fees costs about $50 for rural schools and over $60 for secondary schools in urban areas. State universities averagely cost $550 while private universities averagely cost $900. Vocational Colleges cost an average of $200 per term.
One of the measures which have been implemented to cater for disadvantaged children is the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) which is designed to provide quality education to children, including specific policies aimed at supporting orphans and vulnerable children.
The fund is marred in controversy and lack of funds as its main funder, the Government of Zimbabwe, is financially constrained.
Zimbabwe’s education system is considered one of the finest in Africa with a literacy rate of 91 percent.
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