For many parents and guardians, the closure of schools on Thursday last week did not signal the beginning of a holiday during which they can rest and celebrate Christmas Day and the New Year with their families.
It, in fact, signalled the beginning of four weeks or so of running here and there trying to raise money to pay fees and buy uniforms, books and other requirements for their children in readiness for the first school term of 2020.
This will be extremely tough for many parents given, on one hand, the prevailing economic challenges and on the other, high school fees they must pay, the high cost of uniforms and books, and, for those with children learning at boarding schools, groceries they must buy for their kids when they return to school.
The latest editions of our sister papers, The Sunday Mail and Sunday News captured the agony that some parents and guardians are undergoing, instead of preparing to be merry this festive period after school authorities countrywide sharply increased school fees.
The latter reported that, Falcon College in Esigodini has proposed $60 000 or an equivalent of US$3 000 in school fees while Catholic-run Christian Brothers College (CBC) in Bulawayo will be charging $17 300 per term for next year. Another Catholic-run school in Bulawayo, Dominican Convent is also said to be charging in excess of $13 000 per term while Petra College is asking for $12 600 for secondary and $8 260 for primary with the possibility of a top-up that will be determined by changes in the prices of goods mid-way through the first term.
Some private schools such as St Thomas Aquinas Primary, also in Bulawayo are charging $8 300. Cyrene Mission, a boarding school is charging $4 000 excluding grocery. Matopo High School and Gloag are said to have adopted a wait and see attitude as schools closed without finalising the deliberations on the fees.
Pupils who will enrol for Form One at Catholic-run St Dominic’s Chishawasha, located 24 kilometres from Harare, The Sunday Mail reported, will have to part with $12 200. Methodist-run Sandringham High School is proposing an $11 896 fee, including uniforms.
We appreciate that the economy is being affected by high inflation which has made school operations difficult. As a result, authorities need to revise their budgets, which necessitate increases in school fees, levies and so on.
However, we feel that some of the school fees increases are not justified and many parents and guardians might be unable to pay them which would adversely affect the education of their children.
We are not too sure yet if parents were consulted as the Education Act demands, before school authorities pegged the school fees at the levels they did. We are saying this knowing that some schools have actually not formally consulted parents yet they have already sent out invoices.
On the invoices, the school administrators indicate that the figures noted were yet to be approved by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education as must be the case.
Our experience, however, is that whatever is stated as the interim figure on the invoices pending Government approval is actually what parents and guardians will be made to pay next term and there is no chance that there would be a change.
We also suspect that in some cases parents were consulted and the matter of school fees put to a vote, figures were simply put on paper even if a majority of parents voted against the proposals to increase school fees by huge margins.
In view of this, we urge school authorities to be honest in pegging fees and to religiously follow the law. This takes all parents on board and reduces the risk of some aggrieved parents taking schools to court challenging the processes leading to the pegging of school fees.
On school uniforms, we feel for parents who will have to pay huge sums of money to acquire the clothing for their children.
However, in this respect, we don’t see how parents can be assisted for there is no law that governs increases in prices of school uniforms. Therefore, this is a burden they would most unfortunately have to bear.
Having said this, we urge shops that provide essentials such as school uniforms and books to be more responsible in their pricing structures so that children’s quest to acquire an education is not frustrated.