By Nokuthaba Nkomo
Many of Zimbabwe’s top primary and secondary schools are increasingly pricing out the majority of the country’s pupils, as they resort to charging exorbitant fees — and in foreign currency — to stay afloat.
This comes as Zimbabwe’s recurrent political and economic crises — which have decimated many key sectors such as agriculture and industry over the past two decades — are now threatening to completely wreck the country’s previously feted education system.
An official with decades of experience in the education sector said he understood why private schools were charging high fees, as the alternative would be “the depression associated with many public schools”.
“Both private schools and the parents with children there are caught between a rock and a hard place. You don’t demand and pay those high fees and standards drop, while at the same time very few people can now afford these schools,” the veteran educator said.
But parents with children at elite private schools in Harare who spoke to the Daily News described the worrying development at their institutions as “madness” — as they now had to find hard United States dollars and also countenance fees hikes of up to four times in RTGS payments or bond notes.
“Not even Cabinet ministers or even private sector chief executives of top performing companies can afford to pay some of these crazy school fees that are being demanded by some private schools, unless their income is not earned legitimately.
“Of all the people who work for government, perhaps only President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his two deputies can afford to pay such fees.
“This means that come January, many parents are going to get stranded and such a scenario will be sad as this will not only highlight the extent of the country’s economic rot, but also mean that access to quality education by the majority will become even more difficult,” one of the parents said.
So bad has the situation become, that matters came to a head yesterday when one of the elite schools in Masvingo — Riverton Academy — advised parents who have complained about the fees hike and the payment of monies in foreign currency on social media to remove their children from the school with immediate effect.
“The school administration has noted with concern your alignment to a group of people that have castigated, maligned and besmirched the school wherein your child learns.
“This is despite the fact that there are properly laid down channels which you could have used to air your grievances to the school.
“In view of the communications that have been made on the social media and / or other fora, you appear to be one of the aggrieved parents.
“The school is therefore advising you to look for an alternative school for your child who can provide services and facilities that suit your taste,” said Riverton headmaster, Herbert Mushandu in a letter seen by the Daily News.
It was not immediately clear late last night whether this threat to parents would be taken further by the school’s authorities or whether it was merely meant to beat them into line.
This comes after Riverton bowed to parents’ pressure in October, who resisted the school’s demands for them to top up third term school fees in US dollars.
However, the school announced in a memo to parents this week that it would now be charging its fees for next year in US dollars, while also sharply hiking the equivalent in RTGS and bond notes payments.
For its boarding secondary school, Riverton will be charging US$2 000 or $9 600 in RTGS payments or bond notes.
Parents with children at its primary school will have to fork out US$1 500 or $7 500 RTGS transfers or bond notes.
On the other hand, early childhood development (ECD) fees would cost US$300 or $1 350 RTGS or bond notes.
Similarly, and in a letter informing parents to changes in its school fees structure, Gateway School Trust blamed the current economic turmoil for its introduction of a US dollar component to its school fees for January 2019.
“The impact of the economy has affected all of us in various ways as a nation. No sector, including education, has been left out.
“With this in mind, the board of trustees together with management would like to assure you that a lot of prayer, thought and deliberation have been put in to find the best way forward to ensure that the highest standard of Christian education remains in place for our children.
“School fees for term one 2019 have a 25 percent US$ component to enable us to continue to provide the same level of education you expect for your children,” Abe Gatsi, the Gateway Schools Trust headmaster, said in a circular.
Zimbabwe is currently in the grip of yet another mega economic crisis which has spawned foreign currency, fuel and medicines shortages in the country, as well as ever rising prices of basic goods.
All this is making life more miserable by the day for long-suffering Zimbabweans, the majority of whom are poor and unemployed.
The crisis this week extended to the country’s public hospitals where patients were left stranded due to an on-going crippling strike by doctors, due to grievances over their working conditions and the deteriorating quality of public health care. DailyNews