Patrick Chitumba, Midlands Bureau Chief
SOME private schools have started demanding fees as high as US$1 000 or more for the Third Term in defiance of a Government directive.
Government has warned that it will soon carry out investigations to establish schools abusing online learning by charging parents exorbitant fees for virtual learning.
The Midlands Christian Group of Colleges (MCGC) which runs Midlands Christian College (MCC), Midlands Christian School (MCS) and Treasure Trove (TT) in Gweru has asked parents to pay what it refers to as “overhead fees”.
The group has given parents the option to pay the US$ fees in local currency using the auction rate which is at ZWL$83,40 to the United States dollar this week. The amount due for those paying in local currency is therefore determined by the going rate at the time of paying.
The overhead fees for MCC is US$1 410, MCS is US$910 and TT is US$400.
In Bulawayo Petra College is demanding US$1 400 and has also given parents an option to pay the equivalent in local currency using the interbank rate which translates to more than $115 000.
A parent said another private school, Girls College is demanding nearly $83 000 “levy” which translates to about US$ 1 000.
The same schools also demanded varying amounts for Second Term and have already written to parents advising them of the outstanding fees.
The development comes at a time when the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education has dismissed as misleading information circulating on social media to the effect that schools will reopen on September 2.
Schools were prematurely closed in March due to the Covid-19 threat.
According to the 2020 calendar, schools were supposed to open on September 8 for the Third Term but given the prevailing Covid-19 situation, this is highly unlikely.
In a bid to force parents to pay outstanding Second Term fees, some schools have blocked defaulting pupils from accessing online learning platforms.
This is however, against Government policy which stipulates that pupils should not be penalised for failure to pay fees which is an obligation of parents or guardians.
Most parents who spoke to Chronicle said following economic disruptions as a result of Covid-19, they expected school authorities to be sensitive to their plight and demand reasonable fees.
They said given that their children were just benefiting from online learning whose costs to schools are very low, schools were supposed to drastically reduce fees.
The parents said some of them used to rely on remittances from relatives abroad but they too have been adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
They said what has worsened their situation was that most schools were rejecting payment plans.
In Gweru, MCC has given parents 10 days to pay the fees.
MCGC principal director Pastor Daniel Pswarayi said discussions over the overhead fees were still pending.
“Discussions are underway over the matter and therefore these figures are still provisional pending finalisation,” he said.
Parents with children attending the group’s schools said they had been given up to September 8 to pay the fees.
Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education Deputy Minister, Cde Edgar Moyo said his ministry is investigating schools which are allegedly charging the “extortionist” Third Term fees.
He said the Government position as announced by Minister Cain Mathema is that schools remain closed and any fees must be approved by Government.
Recently, Minister Mathema said private schools that continue defying Government directives risk being deregistered.