BY VENERANDA LANGA
PRIMARY and Secondary Education minister Cain Mathema yesterday said school fees increases should be below 20% in local currency and warned schools not to force parents to purchase expensive uniforms from their institutions.
In a ministerial statement issued on his behalf by Sports minister Kirsty Coventry in the National Assembly yesterday, Mathema said currently, his ministry was collecting information on fees and levies being charged by schools after complaints by parents and MPs that they were too exorbitant.
The statement came after chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Education, Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, demanded that the minister issues a ministerial statement in the National Assembly to explain the 0% failure rate by Grade 7 pupils in Matabeleland North and South provinces as well as issues of exorbitant fees and charges on uniforms by schools.
“As a ministry, we are collecting information on fees and levies being charged by schools. The fees are increased through a decision by parents at properly constituted meetings and schools should adhere to the decisions and recommendations of the school development committees (SDCs),” Coventry said on behalf of Mathema.
“Applications for fees increases should be below 20% increases and any other increases should be approved by the head of ministry as directed in the secretary’s circular minute number 6 of 2018,” the statement noted.
In increasing fees, there was need for consent by 20% parents at SDC meetings, and that fees should comply with Statutory Instrument 121 of 2019, which stipulates pricing in local currency and does not give room for rating the approved fees according to the prevailing bank rate.
On schools forcing parents to purchase uniforms from them, a circular has been issued that outlawed the purchase of uniforms only at school level.
“Parents can buy uniforms anywhere to the best of their advantage and can even make uniforms themselves. Schools are not allowed to coerce parents to buy uniforms at their schools,” the statement further said.
On withholding results for students who have not paid fees, the Education ministry said: “No institution should withhold results for candidates for whatever reason. Arrangements should be made with the concerned parents/guardians to settle fees arrears and recovery of lost teaching materials like books. Withholding of results by schools is an illegal practice since the contract is between the candidate and Zimsec [Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council], hence learners should access results timeously.”
On the 0% pass rate at schools in Matabeleland North and South, the ministry gave a number of factors that included shortage of teachers, learning materials and shortage of learning space at some schools, resulting in students learning from barns.
“The ministry has about 15 000 teacher vacancies and we are grateful that Treasury is supporting the ministry to recruit more teachers to reduce the gaps. In 2020, the ministry has been authorised to recruit 5 000 teachers, which is a step in the right direction to rescue the 0% pass rate registered in some of our schools,” the ministry said.
Learning materials are in short supply, with books reportedly selling at $1 000 each and rural day and satellite schools being the worst affected by the shortages.
“Teaching and learning space at some schools is grossly inadequate. For example, some schools are still using tobacco barns and grass-thatched classrooms, animal handling facilities and some schools are operating without specialist rooms like design and technology laboratories and workshops,” the ministerial statement said.
Misihairabwi-Mushonga demanded that Mathema should issue a memorandum before schools open indicating the issues espoused in his ministerial statement pertaining to fees, uniforms and withholding of results.
“We also need the minister to give us a full appreciation why particularly certain schools had 0% pass rates, especially in the Matabeleland region. We also need gender disaggregation of the failure rate,” Misihairabwi-Mushonga said.
Umzingwane MP Levy Mayihlome (Zanu PF) also demanded that Mathema be more concise and explain what the ministry will do with the students who had a 0% pass rate, whether they will repeat the course.
Perseverance Zhou (Zanu PF PR MP) said Mathema must also explain to Parliament why there was a 5% drop in the Grade 7 pass rate from 52% the previous year to 47%.
She said the ministry must ensure that the pass rate should not come down any further.
Norton MP Temba Mliswa (independent) then blasted President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s choice of Mathema as Primary and Secondary Education minister, alleging that he was not an educationist.
“Actually, the former Primary and Secondary Education minister Paul Mavima must come to Parliament to explain before the schools open the measures that need to be taken. Next time, the President should appoint a minister who has an education background because education is key. The late former President Robert Mugabe was thorough about education and ensured that people with an education background are appointed ministers,” Mliswa said.
Speaker of the National Assembly, Jacob Mudenda then said the Primary and Secondary Education ministry had assured Parliament that they were going to issue out a Press statement before schools opened to give them direction on the issues pointed out by Parliament.