Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter
PRIVATE schools are still demanding second term fees in direct defiance of Government’s position that no school must demand payment as online learning plans are yet to be approved.
Government last week said schools should not demand fees as consultations are underway on when schools would open for the second term. Authorities also said those intending to conduct online lessons should have the plans first approved and no such plans had been approved so far.
When President Mnangagwa extended the national lockdown by a further two weeks on Friday, he said schools, colleges and universities will remain closed until further notice. Education authorities yesterday said no parent must pay any fees as yet, adding that schools must comply with the Government’s directive to avoid deregistration.
In Bulawayo, private schools such as Petra and Whitestone have given parents up to May 15 to make partial fees payment as they wait for Government’s communication on schools’ opening.
The schools are charging deposits of between $14 000 and $27 000 insisting that they will be teaching pupils online starting this week.
In an interview yesterday, Association of Trust Schools (ATS) executive director Mr Timothy Middleton said private schools are resuming online lessons this week despite Government’s communication.
“The schools will be offering online lessons or equivalent. We have communicated this to the ministry and they have not shown any negative response to it,” said Mr Middleton.
Pressed to confirm if Government had responded to their application, he said it has not.
“We are able to provide the online learning and keep the children occupied without endangering their health in any way,” he added.
Mr Middleton declined to comment about fees increases that had not approved by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education.
“I do not think they are increasing the fees; I think inflation is doing that. But they have to make those decisions and I thought anyone would understand that these are strange times, these are difficult times, for you, for me, for schools, for parents, for teachers, for pupils, and everyone,” he said.
Petra Schools Trust chairman Mr David Coltart said both the primary and high school will start online lessons on Wednesday.
“Petra is ahead of the curve regarding this crisis. Our staff has been working very hard right through the lockdown and they have prepared a comprehensive programme for online education which will commence this Wednesday. Teachers will be teaching using online methods. So, the term which was meant to start tomorrow will start on Wednesday,” said Mr Coltart.
He said due to the opening, Petra is demanding fees payment for the second term.
“In that context, we have asked our parents to pay the second term school fees so that teachers can be paid by the schools. Private schools get no Government assistance and we have an obligation to pay our teachers and other members of staff. It is in that context that we should not be charged,” he said.
“My understanding of Government is that they are following medical advice and that is schools should not physically open so that the virus cannot be transmitted. As you know you cannot get the virus through the internet.”
Mr Coltart said those who feel that the school is being unjust should just transfer their children from Petra.
“The fees are not too high. We understand that everyone is underpaid in this environment. The teachers are already underpaid if one considers what people in commerce are being paid. These are private schools, people are not forced to get to private schools. If they feel that they cannot afford to pay these fees they have the right to take their children to other schools,” said Mr Coltart.
Primary and Secondary Education Ministry spokesperson Mr Patrick Zumbo said Government position has not changed as schools are not physically or virtually opening this week.
He said schools that defy Government’s regulation risk being deregistered as Primary and Secondary Education Minister Cain Mathema warned last week.
He said schools have not even communicated to the Ministry regarding their intentions to teach online while increasing fees.
“If that communication has been made, it is yet to reach Permanent Secretary’s office. But as I speak, we have not seen any communication coming from these schools. The Minister has made it clear that measures can be taken and we don’t want to go as far as deregistering these schools. But that is an option that we are left with in the event that they continue to defy what the honourable minister has said. We don’t want to go that far they just have to comply. That is what we are expecting from them,” he said.
Mr Zumbo said parents and guardians should report to the nearest education office schools that continue disregarding regulations so that Government takes action.
“We have our officers at district level. We have our officers at provincial level. So, they can raise some of these anomalies with those officers. Those officers know what action to take and what they are supposed to do. They can call our offices; a call would be enough,” said Mr Zumbo. — @nqotshili