By Harmony Agere
Schools might have closed last week, but parents and guardians are already agonising over the fate of their children next year, and it is now widely believed there will be an exodus from private and mission schools to Government schools due to sharp fees hikes.
Most schools, both public and private, have already ominously signalled they would significantly hike their fees in tandem with galloping expenses needed to keep the institutions running.
Fees for boarding schools ranged from $900 to $1000 last term, but parents had to top up mid-term as prices of goods and services rose.
But some parents say the proposed new fees, as indicated by preliminary invoices handed out to parents last week, range from “shocking”, “ridiculous” to “outrageous”.
Although schools have been continuously adjusting their fees during the last term through top-ups, the latest round of proposed increases, especially at a time salaries have remained low, have created a “perfect storm” where parents and guardians — even with the aid of savings — simply cannot afford.
The lowest-paid civil servant earns a little above $1 000 per month.
Most of those affected are presently scouting for schools that suit their budgets.
“It is a shock! We had been anticipating an increase, but not to this much,” said a parent whose child attends boarding school at Rusununguko High in Goromonzi, Mashonaland East, soon after picking up her son at Robert Gabriel Mugabe Square last week.
She refused to be identified for fear of victimisation.
“They say we have to pay $9 000 (next year), but where will we get the money? I am a mere nurse . . . so I may have to enrol him at a more affordable day school.”
The increases are being keenly felt in boarding schools.
Pupils enrolling for Form 1 at Catholic-run St Dominic’s Chishawasha, located 24 kilometres from the capital, Harare, will have to part with $12 200.
Similarly, Methodist-run Sandringham High School near Norton is proposing an $11 896 fee, including uniforms.
Private schools are indexing their fees to the US-dollar exchange rate to insulate against soaring expenses, they say.
Fees at Highfield-based Regina Mundi Convent Primary School are currently pegged at US$280 per pupil per term, which translates to about $4 500 using the current interbank foreign exchange rate.
A representative organisation of private schools, the Association of Trust Schools (ATS), told The Sunday Mail that the schools would continue complying with the law, but they have to recover costs of delivering a specific service.
“As far as we understand, schools charge in Zimbabwe dollars,” he said.
“Each member school of ATS is independent: ATS is not required to approve or even know what fees that schools charge.
“ATS’s core values are: integrity, accountability, ethical governance and professionalism. One of the criteria for membership of ATS schools is that they are not for profit, but they do deliver a specific service whose costs have to be recovered,” said ATS chief executive officer Mr Tim Middleton.
However, there are fears that even Government schools would be applying for an adjustment, particularly in tuition, which is used to finance school projects and administrative expenses.
Zimbabwe Schools Development Associations/Committees secretary-general Mr Everisto Jongwe said while schools had to review fees to remain viable, increases had to be borne out of an inclusive consultative process that guarantees a win-win for everyone.
“I would not want to blame the schools for wanting to hike the fees because the economic environment demands that they do that to remain viable,” he said.
“But we encourage schools to work with SDCs, parents and other stakeholders so as to come up with a solution which works for everyone.”
There are, however, fears the spate of fee hikes will trigger a wave of transfers between schools.
Most worryingly, teachers believe that the present upheavals might result in rising drop-outs in rural schools.
Zimbabwe Teachers’ Union (ZIMTA) chief executive officer Dr Sifiso Ndlovu said parents in rural areas might be worse off.
“We had a situation where parents in urban areas and formerly Group A and B schools generally made an effort to pay school fees,” he said.
“It was in the rural areas where we had those problems, but with the current situation, we may begin to see even those in urban areas struggling.”
The solution, he added, lies in arresting inflation.
“It is the shocker prices of everything that are causing this situation; we have shocker electricity bills, shocker fuel prices, shocker food prices.
“So as we try to come up with a solution, those are the factors that we have to consider.”
According to a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) report, about 20 400 pupils in Zimbabwe dropped out of primary school in 2018.
The main reasons cited for this phenomenon were financial constraints, expulsion and absconding.
Secretary for Primary and Secondary Education Mrs Tumisang Thabela said schools should follow procedure before increasing fees.
“Our position as the Government is that all schools, in consultation with the School Development Committees, should apply first before they increase school fees,” she said.
“This includes all schools, including boarding schools and trust schools, because they are registered with us.”
It will be another agonising month for parents as they face the realities of the new school term come January. The Sunday Mail