Should schools sell uniforms?

. . . as parents feel short-changed

Harmony Agere

Schools and parents should find common ground on disagreements pertaining the sale of uniforms in schools since Government does not have a policy that either bars or allows the practice, a senior Government official has said.Parents have of late been calling for Government’s intervention as they are being compelled to buy uniforms from the schools they would have enrolled their children.

Deputy Minister of Primary and Secondary Education, Professor Paul Mavhima, said Government does not have a policy on the matter, adding that the disputing parties can negotiate in areas of disagreements.

“Unfortunately there is no policy which specifically deals with this issue at the moment so we are asking parents and schools to arrive at a common understanding,” he said.

“Schools desire uniformity and in doing so they want to cut costs as much as possible. That is why you are seeing that more schools are joining in.”

Professor Mavhima admitted that the matter merits an official investigation and subsequent regulation from the Ministry to avoid abuse of either parties.

“It is a matter we, as a ministry, should look into and see whether some kind of regulation or monitoring can be put in place,” he said.

“The last thing we want is for parents to incur unnecessary costs as they are already burdened with a lot of things. But I must emphasise again that parents and schools can enter into dialogue and find the best solution which will benefit the child.”

Reports say most schools are rejecting uniforms bought outside their premises in the name of uniformity.

Whilst observers say selling uniforms has become big business for schools, issues of quality and costs have been raised by parents.

Others have claimed that the system is now being abused for the benefit of a few individuals in schools who connive with the suppliers to produce substandard uniforms at high prices.

A bursar at a school in Harare admitted that the idea is good but is being abused by authorities, adding that parents have a right to complain.

“Some schools started with this idea wanting to achieve uniformity and keep with their neat standards,” said one source.

“So they would contract their own supplier who produced at more or less the same price charged in the retail shops. Therefore uniformity was achieved without infringing on anyone.”

The source said it is, however, different with schools these days.

“But with these schools that joined the party later, it is all about fundraising and benefiting a few individuals in the school.

Those handling the contracts and procurement are not benefiting. This is particularly so when purchasing from the school is made compulsory. As a person who has worked in the system, I can confidently tell you that a majority of these schools are exploiting this noble idea for fundraising and personal benefits.”

Zimbabwe Teachers Union chief executive, Mr Sifiso Ndlovu, admitted that in some instances uniforms are now being used for fundraising purposes.

“As teachers we are mainly worried about how children are dressed and presented so as to create discipline and a tranquil environment in the classroom,” he said.

“But, yes, it is no longer a doubt that uniforms have become big business for schools and are being used for fundraising. But in all that, this should be fair for everyone, the uniforms should be of good quality and reasonable costs.”

A survey carried out by The Sunday Mail Extra in Harare’s cenral business district last week revealed that most retailers have lost significant business to schools.

“We have lost business to schools, especially for secondary school products,” said a sales assistant in one of the shops.

“The schools are buying or contracting cheap suppliers and they have gained an upper hand.”

The surveys also show that in most retail shops, a full set of uniform for a Form One student ranges between $100 and $150 while in some schools it is reported to be as high as $350.

The Minister of Primary and Secondary Education, Dr Lazarus Dokora, recently told Parliament that there was no policy compelling parents to buy uniforms before enrolling at any particular school.

Meanwhile, Mashonaland West provincial education director, Sylvester Mashayamombe, was quoted in the local media rebuking school heads that are forcing parents to buy uniforms provided at schools as a pre-condition to secure places.

“It is not Government policy for schools to sell school uniforms to parents … attaching places for learning to buying school uniforms at schools is diabolical,” he was quoted as saying.

“In fact, there is no Statutory Instrument that forces children to wear school uniforms. It is the idea of parents.”

Schools open for the first term of 2017 on Tuesday and some parents are still running around to pay fees and buy uniforms for their children.

 

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