Nqobile Tshili/ Bongani Ndlovu, Chronicle Reporters
GOVERNMENT has issued a warning to private schools that are demanding fees for the second term while stressing that only President Mnangagwa will guide the nation on the reopening of schools.
Also, although it is not opposed to online learning, Government has not yet allowed any school to pursue that route.
The pronouncement comes at a time some private schools have started demanding increased fees for the second term while pursuing online learning, should schools not open as previously scheduled next week.
Due to the national lockdown, many parents and guardians have lost their income or are receiving a fraction of their salaries, and are likely to face challenges raising some of the huge amounts being demanded by private schools.
According to the 2020 calendar, schools were expected to open on Tuesday next week.
For the first term, schools were supposed to close on April 2 but due to the threat of Covid-19, President Mnangagwa ordered that they close on March 24 to prevent the spread of the virus.
The President subsequently placed the country on a three-week national lockdown on March 30 which was extended to May 3, after which Government will decide on the way forward.
Some private schools have since started demanding fees for the second term even giving timelines when parents and guardians should make the payments.
In Bulawayo, institutions such as Petra and Whitestone high schools have told parents to make second term fees payments in the next two weeks.
At Whitestone, parents and guardians have been told to pay fees deposit ranging from $16 000 to $27 000 by May 8.
Petra College pegged deposit at $21 000 for senior pupils and $13 780 for the juniors which is subject to adjustment when Government makes the announcement on schools’ opening.
The schools are also charging fees in foreign currency but did not disclose the amounts in their newsletters, saying parents and guardians can call for forex fee structures and get discounts.
In a newsletter to parents, Petra College said the deposit will enable the school to continue providing a “service and meeting normal obligations.”
“Please pay by the 15th May. Once we have official information from Ministry of Education regarding the re-opening of the schools, we will be able to calculate the budget required and agree any additional fee requirements for the term,” read the communication.
The school said it was highly unlikely that normal schools opening will take place next week and they were exploring e-learning platforms.
“Closed schools mean that we will be delivering learning remotely and via Google classroom predominantly. In readiness for this eventuality you will soon be receiving an email with details of how to access our online classrooms. The plan for each age group will vary but will commence on 5th May: From Grade 4 to Upper 6 each pupil will have their own Petra email address to sign into their class, this email is only for access to the classroom with the teacher,” reads the letter.
Whitestone School told parents that the Conference of Heads of Independent Schools in Zimbabwe (CHISZ) took a decision to resume the school’s calendar next week.
“All CHISZ schools have decided to start educating children as per the normal calendar so as to not fall too far behind. Online teaching is the only option to stay Covid-19 free, yet give the children the best education under the circumstances,” reads the school’s communication.
Yesterday, Minister of Primary and Secondary Education Cain Mathema said schools that increase fees without approval risk being deregistered for extortion.
Speaking during the launch of the Schools’ Covid-19 Response programme at Chikangwe High School in Mashonaland West, Minister Mathema said errant schools will be dealt with.
“We are now having some schools which are deviating from their mandate and charging fees that are unapproved and are akin to extortion. All schools, without exception, must follow the procedures for seeking the approval for fee increases,” said the Minister.
“No increase will be permitted that is effected outside the laid down procedures which require the written approval of the Secretary for Primary and Secondary Education. Schools that continue to flout the regulations stand warned; the Ministry will not hesitate to deregister schools that purport to be educational institutions and yet indulge in unlawful activities.”
Primary and Secondary Education spokesperson Mr Patrick Zumbo said Government has not made any decision as to when schools should open and learning institutions should wait until a pronouncement is made.
Mr Zumbo said Government supports online learning but nothing has been approved yet for schools.
“Schools should not be demanding fees now. Leaners are at home, what are they demanding the fees for? They can’t be talking about fees as authorities are saying schools may not open soon.
“There hasn’t been any date that has been approved for schools opening. We can only talk about schools when its safe as guided by the health officials. We have not received any request for schools opening even for online lessons. Any school that intends to do so should apply through the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education Permanent Secretary (Mrs Tumisang Thabela),” said Mr Zumbo.
He said the Ministry was not against online teaching of learners, but this should only be done in within confines of the law.
Primary and Secondary Education Parliamentary Portfolio Committee Chairperson Ms Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga said since schools were closed through a Presidential declaration, it is only the President who can make a call on when schools will reopen.
She, however, said opening of schools should be guided by science so as to save lives.
Ms Misihairabwi-Mushonga said her committee is concerned that the actions by private schools seem to be driven by the need to make profit.
“We are worried by actions of the private players in this field who seem to be driven by profit only. Every school in this country is under the supervision of a ministry hence no institution should be issuing anything son chool fees or otherwise until the President through the ministry has given direction. We therefore will be asking the ministry to play its supervisory role and ensure sanity prevails,” she said.
A parent with children at one of the mentioned schools, who spoke on condition of anonymity said the learning institutions were making outrageous demands while the country is on lockdown.
“We are on lockdown where do some of us get the money? And asking that much for online teaching is just too much. It’s not like the school gives me an I-pad or buys data for me,” said one of the parents.
The National Association of Secondary School Heads said the opening of schools must be influenced by health experts.
“Even if the experts were to give the greenlight, still the opening of schools should be gradual or done in phases starting with senior learners who can take care of themselves and who are also due to write examinations,” the association said.