Cash-strapped parents plead for grace period from schools

Schools have been urged to explore other ways of recovering fees and levies, instead of excluding learners from classes.

The new term commenced Tuesday, with reports indicating that many schools in Harare, Bulawayo and other parts of the country turned away learners whose fees were outstanding.

In Bulawayo, several church-run and government schools in the high density suburbs were said to have excluded learners from classes, including the following primary schools: St Bernard’s, St Patrick’s, Senzangendaba, Emakhandeni and Mhali.

A parent, whose daughter attends St Patrick’s Primary School in Makokoba, told SW Radio Africa that her daughter, who is in Grade 3, was made to spend the whole of Tuesday sitting at a car park at the school because she had not paid.

“This amounts to punishing and harassing the child because she is too young to understand why she cannot attend class with others or to go home.

“As a parent who is also a teacher, I understand that schools need the fees to function since we rely on these for everyday items such as chalks and books.

“But the prevailing economic climate makes it difficult for parents to raise enough money to meet all their financial obligations at once.

“So authorities should be open to negotiations for grace periods to give parents time to raise the funds rather than excluding pupils on the very first day of school.”

Vusumuzi Mahlangu, Bulawayo provincial coordinator at the Progressive teacher’s Union, reminded school authorities that it was illegal to exclude learners over unpaid tuition fees.

However, Mahlangu said schools were in a difficult position as they relied on fees and levies to cover essential expenses, given the lack of funding from government.

“Over the years government funding has dwindled to almost nothing, leaving most schools to run on the little that learners pay, although the situation is different for private or church-run schools that get supplementary donor funding,” Mahlangu said.

“It is crucial that schools collect fees and levies to remain operational, but this has to be balanced with the right of children to an education.

“If a child is excluded, that time is never recovered even if they were to pay the required fees at a later date, hence the need to explore other ways of collecting the funds without infringing on the right of pupils,” Mahlangu added.

Mahlangu said schools should deal directly with parents/guardians where fees are outstanding: “Schools can engage debt collectors, for example, in situations where fees have gone unpaid for a reasonable period of time.

“And for those parents who genuinely cannot pay, we know that there is 90% unemployment in this country, parents can offer their labour to the school in exchange for fees.

“All these are viable options that do not prejudice learners but deal directly with those responsible for paying fees,” Mahlangu added.

Lobengula High and Inyanda were some of the secondary schools which barred students from attending lessons. A teacher at Inyanda said the students had not necessarily been excluded, but rather sent to go and collect fees from their parents.

A teacher at Fatima High School in the rural constituency of Silobela, said schools in the rural areas usually gave learners a two-week grace period before excluding them from lessons.

He said just like many children in rural Zimbabwe, fees for most learners at the school were being paid for by donors, such as Plan International.

Last year another donor-funded initiative, The Basic Education Assistance Module, was introduced as part of efforts to revive the country’s collapsed education sector.

With the ZANU PF party now in charge, there are fears that most of these essential initiatives will be scrapped by the donor-hostile Mugabe government. –SW Radio Africa News

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