Mukudzei Chingwere, Harare Bureau
HEADMASTERS of Government schools who defy laid down guidelines in hiking fees will be deemed to have committed acts of misconduct and will be liable to disciplinary action, which may include dismissal, while private schools risk being deregistered for the same offence.
This comes as the Government this week moved in to stop illegal fees hikes by some schools. The hikes are said to be bordering on exclusion and denying the less privileged their right to education.
Yesterday, Government said any fees hike outside the stipulated regulations, which include parents’ consent and approval by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, is illegal.
Under the regulations in existence since the 1980s, a fee or levy rise must be properly budgeted and then presented to the parents at a special meeting.
At least 20 percent of parents must be present at the meeting, with their names recorded, and a majority must approve. The minutes of the meeting, the list of those present, and the budget statement must go to the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education for the permanent secretary to approve.
Fees at Government and council schools are set by the Government, but each school through its School Development Association is permitted to charge a levy to increase the amount of money available for school development.
But this levy has to be approved through the parent body. Non-government schools combine everything into a single fee, which they can set, but again any increase has to follow the parental approval system.
“Heads of public schools who defy the directive would have defied the Permanent Secretary and that is an act of misconduct, so they will be charged. The penalties they face might include dismissal,” said the spokesperson for the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, Mr Taungana Ndoro.
Mr Taungana Ndoro
“Non-Government schools who do not follow the laid down procedure risk being deregistered.”
Unjustified fees hikes fly in the face of President Mnangagwa’s thrust of availing quality education to all which has seen Government progressively expanding the scope of the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) towards free basic education.
The warning comes after it had been noted that some schools were charging fees or levies exclusively in United States dollars which is at variance with the country’s monetary regulations which allow a multi-currency system.
While fees can be set in US dollars, the actual payment can be made in local currency at the prevailing interbank rate on the day of payment.
In many cases, schools have been hiking fees or levies without following the procedures of getting parents’ and guardians’ buy-in as well as Government approval. But in a circular to stakeholders, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education Mrs Tumisang Thabela warned that this must be stopped immediately.
“The Government of Zimbabwe through the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education has an obligation to guarantee access to education for all children,” reads part of the circular.
“However, the ministry has noted with concern that some learning institutions continue to charge and collect fees that have not been approved and in many cases extremely high fees that make education unaffordable to the generality of the populace. As per the dictates of the law, all schools are required to apply for fees approval in the event that they want to increase the fees and levies. Schools are reminded that the nation has a multi-currency economy and this should be complied with to the letter by all Government and Non-Government schools.”
According to the Education Act, no learner can be excluded from any public sector school for non-payment of fees.
Mrs Thabela said the mandate of the school head is to ensure that all pupils access education, and pupils at public schools should not be sent away for non-payment of fees and levies. She said parents and guardians should be allowed to make payment plans on the approved fee and levy structures, where they cannot pay all the fees at once.
“Approvals have to be received by schools before any increases are affected. Parents or guardians should not be requested to pay any extra amounts over and above what is approved as fees and levy,” said Mrs Thabela.
“All schools should submit their applications for fees approval to the provincial education directors who will in turn forward applications with recommendations in respect of those categories to be considered by the Permanent Secretary for Primary and Secondary Education.
“All fee and levy applications should be approved for use before collection.”
Meanwhile, schools that were discouraged to open in fear of floods, particularly in Manicaland province, are now open. “Everyone is back at school. All schools are now open and there is no risk after we got assurance from the Department of Civil Protection,” said Mr Ndoro.