5 May 2010

Zimbabwe: Schools Bar Pupils Over Fees

Harare — SCHOOLS in Harare opened for the second term yesterday with scores of students at Government institutions being turned away for failing to pay tuition fees and levies.

The financial burden on parents appears to have taken its toll as large numbers of schoolchildren did not attend classes.

The children were told to meet arrears dating as far back as January last year, with some schools saying they were owed hundreds of thousands of United States dollars.

Harare's Girls High School said parents and guardians owed over US$300 000.

Yesterday, the school enlisted the services of the police to bar those in arrears from entering the premises.

Teachers heeded union calls to report for duty and it was business as usual for fully paid-up pupils.

A survey conducted by The Herald showed that indebted students at Girls High, Selbourne Routledge and Prince Edward schools were not allowed to enter the premises.

At Queensdale Primary School, fully paid-up students were issued with a "Green Visa Card" to enter the premises.

School Development Authority members in the morning manned the entrance and asked students to produce the "visa" as a prerequisite for attending lessons.

At Girls High School, SDA members and Zimbabwe Republic Police personnel were at the gates.

Day scholars at the school are paying US$130 in fees while boarders are forking out US$425 inclusive of food, tuition and levies.

Education, Sport, Arts and Culture Minister David Coltart yesterday said the law stipulated that pupils should not be turned away for non-payment of levies.

He, however, said those who had not paid Government-approved tuition fees can be barred from attending lessons.

"No student should be turned away from attending lessons for failure to pay levies. "However, students who fail to pay tuition fees approved by Government can be turned away," Minister Coltart said.

Parents who spoke to The Herald urged the Government to intervene.

"Students should be allowed to learn while we are looking for the money. They cannot afford to miss lessons at this particular time, especially with examinations around the corner.

"We don't know if it is now Government policy to turn students away because of failure to pay fees," said a parent with a child at Girls High.

Girls High SDA chairperson Mrs Sophie Mungwashu said parents and guardians who did not meet their obligations were running the school down, adding they were owed over US$300 000 in levies.

"Reaching this decision was very difficult but we had to act this way because the school is becoming dilapidated, which is not good for a Government flagship.

"Some of these arrears are from 2009 first term and some students had the audacity of getting up to Form Six without paying a single cent. This cannot be allowed to continue."

Asked why they sought police intervention, Mrs Mungwashu said: "ZRP were only called to maintain order and not to threaten students.

"The idea of engaging debt collectors does not work because when students finally pay up, some debt collectors do not remit the money.

"The fees that we are charging were approved by the Ministry of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture.

"There is no justification whatsoever for parents to continue sending their children to school for over a year without paying fees."

At Prince Edward and Selbourne Routledge, pupils who had not paid fees were barred from entering the premises.

In many Harare high-density suburbs, lessons proceeded normally.

At Glen Norah High and Infill Primary schools, teachers said they had reported for duty after getting incentives.

"As long there are incentives, we are going to teach wholeheartedly since our employer is failing to pay us adequately," said a Glen Norah High School teacher.

At Kuwadzana 4 Primary School, teachers said they were reporting for duty "for the benefit of the pupils".

Pupils at Haig Park Primary and Ellis Robins High School said it was also back to business.

In Chinhoyi, pupils at Chaedza Primary School were ejected from the premises for failing to pay their fees.

One pupil said: "The headmaster said we should go home and only come back when our parents have paid the fees in full."

Parents expressed dismay at the decision by the school authorities at the Chinhoyi municipality-run school.

"We feel that the decision is ill-timed because parents just don't decide not to pay fees but are forced by circumstances.

"Most parents are struggling to make ends meet and the move by school authorities is heartless," said a parent.

School authorities said they were not authorised to talk to the media.

The provincial education director was said to be out of office, while Chinhoyi town clerk Mr Ezekial Muringani said he would look into the issue.

"Give me time to establish the facts first before I can give you an accurate answer. That is the responsibility of the director of housing," he said.

The housing director, who handles the portfolio under "social amenities", was also out of office.

It was, however, business as usual at other schools.

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