The Sunday Mail
The Government’s directive which prohibits expelling of learners whose guardians fail to pay school fees has led to high defaulting rates as parents are now taking advantage of the law, school authorities say.
The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education in 2014 issued a moratorium barring all schools from expelling students for non-payment of fees, instructing them to take defaulting parents to court instead.
Speaking ahead of schools opening last Tuesday, the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary Dr Sylvia Utete-Masango said the policy had not changed and warned that those who breached the rule would be punished. However, while the policy has been hailed as a positive step in the promotion of education, it is now being taken advantage of by parents who are in the habit of not paying fees.
“I have two types of parents in my school,” said a Harare school head who declined to be identified, “the one half is made up of parents who do not have the money but make the effort to come and talk to us. The other half does not really care. These are the parents who raise the law card each time and they can go for up to a year without paying even a cent.
“But then the expectations from that same parent remains the same, they want you to finish building a new block, buy new computers and do repairs in a month but they don’t give you the money.
“How am I supposed to run the school when only half of the parents are paying? No-one looks at these issues, no one looks at our plight to be honest.”
The headmaster complained that the same parents who said they did not have money for fees were sending their children to school with sumptuous lunchboxes and expensive shoes.
National Association of School Heads president Mr Johnson Maduku said the solution lay in authorities and parents working together.
“There are many parents who are doing this but it’s bad because at the end of the day it is the child who is compromised,” he said. “This has created a situation whereby even those who can afford are now deliberately defaulting saying we won’t pay for the education of another person’s child. This has made the situation very difficult for most headmasters as they are left with limited options.”
Zimbabwe Teachers Association CEO Mr Sifiso Ndlovu said their work as teachers was affected when parents repeatedly defaulted, urging authorities to use the law to arrest those who willfully failed to pay school fees.
“Education is every child’s right, however, the problem now is the belligerent parent,” he said. “We must come up with instruments of dealing with them such as taking them to court.
“The same laws that protect them should also protect the school. If it means that they should be arrested then let it be because schools need money to run smoothly and for the child to receive quality education.”
Some stakeholders say the legal route has so far failed to bear fruits.
In a recent interview, Zimbabwe Schools Development Associations and Committees president Mr Claudio Mutasa said legal recourse was expensive.
“With Zimbabwean laws sometimes the process is long and schools may find themselves spending more money in the process,” he said. “Even deploying the debt collectors is not really working because they too can be challenged at law. So as parents we are saying let’s play our part, the children are ours and the schools are also ours.”
Dr Utete-Masango said education was everyone’s right as provided for in the Constitution.
“The policy has not changed, if you hear about any school barring children from class for this reason or any other please let us know,” she said. “But it must be understood that the policy for day schools and boarding schools is different.”
Boarding schools, apart from tuition, provide food and accommodation for learners and are, therefore, allowed to send defaulters home.
Nash’s Mr Madhuku said, “We subscribe to Government policy. There cannot be two ways about it, the solution is for us headmasters and parents to find each other. As headmasters together with SDCs we should often give parents progress reports to show them that we operate in a transparent manner. That will encourage parents to pay up.”
The policy which bars schools from expelling children for non-payment of fees is backed by the Education Act which says no children should be denied admission.
However, the Act also says both Government and parents have a responsibility to ensure high standards of education through subsidising and paying fees respectively.
“It is the objective that tuition in schools in Zimbabwe be provided for the lowest possible fees consistent with the maintenance of high standards of education, and the minister shall encourage the attainment of this objective by every appropriate means, including the making of grants and other subsidies to schools,” reads the Act.
Section 27 of the Constitution stipulates that it is the State’s responsibility to take all practical measures to promote free and compulsory basic education for children.
The Basic Education Assistance Module is one Government initiative to promote free education, particularly for the disadvantaged.