Ministry quizzed over BEAM and exam results

Parliament has ordered the ministry of primary and secondary education to indicate the law that allows schools to deny children access to exam results for failure to pay school fees.

MDC-T MP for Bulawayo Metropolitan Nicola Watson last Thursday asked the principal director and acting secretary for primary and secondary education, Rodgers Sisimayi, to identify to the house the law being used by school authorities to hold onto results until parents had paid fees.

Watson expressed concern at what she said was widespread victimisation of poor children through denying them their constitutional right to education.

At some schools, Watson said, children were denied exam grade 7 and form 4 results for school fee arrears backdated to 2010. The portfolio committee told Sisimayi that education was a right for every child.

The ministry was reminded by the parliamentarians that school fees were a contract between parents and schools and children should not be affected by any breach of the contract.

It was noted that it was government’s constitutional obligation to support schools as well as children’s educational needs.

Sisimayi admitted that ministerial directives would be defied by school authorities that continued to either send children home as a reminder for parents to pay fees or withheld examination results.

He took the opportunity to point out that it was illegal for schools to ask for donations, charge money for civvies days or charge levies agreed at school level but not yet approved by the ministry.

Parliamentarians also sought clarification from the ministry regarding the criteria used to identify beneficiaries of the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM).

The law-makers were concerned by reports that some provinces received bigger shares of BEAM at the expense of others.

According to the education ministry, beneficiaries were children failing to pay tuition fees and exam fees due to poverty, those who had dropped out of school or had never been to school for economic reasons.

Members of the community selection committee are constituted at primary schools to help identify and assist the needy children. At secondary school level, headteachers advise parents and guardians of potential BEAM beneficiaries.

Parents who feel they are unable to pay fees, levies and exam fees have the right to apply for assistance through BEAM.

“It must be appreciated that the demand for BEAM assistance now outstrips supply,” Sisimayi told the parliamentary committee.

To help manage and have full control over BEAM, the ministry of education is making initiatives to take over charge of the facility from the ministry of labour and social welfare.

Chairperson for the parliamentary committee for education, sport, arts and culture, Themba Mliswa, assured the ministry support towards initiatives to take charge of BEAM.

The UK government recently provided an additional $10m to enable BEAM to help more than 250,000 children access basic education.

This was in response to a distress call for assistance made by the Zimbabwean government after it had failed to raise funds for the educational facility. The assistance was in addition to $27m that the UK’s Department for International Development provided for 2012-2013. For 2011-2015, the UK expects to invest $650m in Zimbabwe’s education, health, water and sanitation.

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