MANY schools have issued communication indicating an intention to raise school fees in reaction to the spikes and dips in black market rates for the United States dollar.
guest column: Mirriam T Majome
The majority of mostly private schools intend to or have already raised school fees, citing the need to continue operating normally and maintaining the high standards they are associated with.
The majority of parents and guardians are understandably concerned about the prospective increases slated for the first school term of 2019.
It is almost certain that the majority of schools will increase fees from January 2019, so it is the legality of the process that should concern parents. There is a set procedure prescribed in the Education Act, with which all schools must comply before they can raise fees.
However, it is common practice for schools to try and get around the law by factoring in hidden unsanctioned fees through effecting extra charges for practical subjects, extracurricular activities, levies and various fundraising projects.
It is up to parents bodies, the School Development Association and School Development Committees, to take whatever action they may deem necessary to protect their rights and compel schools to comply with the law.
No school is allowed to increase school fees without the express consent of the Minister of Education. The approval is given only if the majority of parents pass such resolutions at specially convened meetings.
Compulsory registration of schools
All schools operating in Zimbabwe are supposed to be registered with the Ministry of Education. ‘All schools’ means both government and non-government schools, including pre-schools, primary schools or secondary schools. Therefore, all schools in Zimbabwe, including private schools, whether or not partially funded by the government, operate under the control of the Ministry of Education and are subject to Part V of the Education Act, Chapter 25:05 Section 15.
Subsection 1 states that no person shall establish and maintain a school other than a government school unless it is registered. Operating a unregistered school is a criminal offence. Despite that, there has been a mushrooming of illegal schools in recent years, but the ministry seems to have given up. The ministry is supposed to shut down unregistered schools, but it seems to turn a blind eye and the confusion carries on unabated.
It is irresponsible for parents and guardians to enrol children into unregistered schools. The onus is on them to verify the registration status of the school they wish to enrol their children at.
Fees for non-government schools
Section 21 (2) forbids schools from charging or increasing fees or levies unless the school makes prior written application through the secretary of Education.
The application has to set out the full details of the proposed fees or levies and the reason for the increase and basis upon which the increase is calculated.
There has to be proof that the fee proposal has been approved by consensus and a resolution of the parents at a meeting of the school parents assembly attended by not less than 20% of the parents.
The minutes of the meeting which resolved to increase the fees have to be attached as proof of the consensus. The proposed increase of fees and levies has to be properly justified. The ministry is obliged to consider applications as expeditiously as possible if it is satisfied that the proposed increase is fair and reasonable.
Consideration will be given to the costs of operating and maintaining the school and improving the facilities for learning. The commission will also take into account representations made by or on behalf of parents or pupils relating to the proposed increase and consider any other relevant economic factors justifying the proposed increase.
The ministry may approve or decline the application, so it is not automatic that the proposed increases will be approved even if there is consensus by the parents.
The ministry can either approve the increase; or amend the figure and fix a new figure which is commensurate with the costs of reasonably running a school of that type or it can completely reject the application.
Appeals in relation to fees
If the school or responsible authority is aggrieved by a decision of the secretary it may appeal to the minister, who may after due consideration of the appeal, grant the appeal or refuse it or fix the amount of any fee or levy.
If the school is still not satisfied with the minister’s decision, it can appeal to the Administrative Court, which may confirm, vary or set aside the decision appealed against or give such other order as it considers just.
The parents’ body also has a right to pursue its rights if the school authorities increase fees unilaterally or fail to comply with the prescribed procedures.
Miriam Tose Majome is a lawyer and a teacher. She can be contacted on email@example.com