It was back to school for most elementary, secondary and tertiary students a fortnight ago. But the punitive fees, exorbitant prices of uniforms and the general rise in the cost of living blemished the start of the new term.
While parents and guardians battled high costs of uniforms, groceries and other must-have items for their children, some private and government schools around the country raised tuition fees by up to 300 percent. The government insist that the fee hike was unlawful.
While most schools located in high density suburbs have not raised their tuition fees, averaging US$30, parents are still required to fork out more for teachers in the form of incentives and extra fees for lessons.
It is however, the former Group A schools which are still operating as if Zimbabwe is still in hyperinflationary mode.
According to reports, parents with children learning at Peterhouse Boys High School forked out US$3 100 this term, up from US$2 800 last year.
St Georges College increased its fees to US$3 400 for boarders and US$2 000 for day scholars.
Dominican Convent Primary pegged its fees at US$600, while the senior school is charging US$800, up from last year's US$650.
Some government primary schools are said to be charging as much as US$300 in non refundable registration fees to parents seeking Grade One places for their children.
The Minister of Edu-cation, Sport, Arts and Culture, David Coltart has been on record stating that government schools were not supposed to charge registration fees.
His threats have largely been ignored as some government schools are chasing away those that would have failed to pay registration fees and other levies.
Tertiary education has not been spared with state universities charging an average of US$ 500 for tuition fees per semester.
A recent survey by The Financial Gazette showed that prices of school uniforms have also risen dramatically this year compared to the same period last year.
Parents or guardians with grade one pupils are forking out at least US$200 to get a full uniform set from leading retailers in Harare, comprising two dresses or two pairs of shorts and shirts, a pair of shoes, a hat, a cardigan, two pairs of stockings, a blazer and a pullover.
School trunks were ranging from US$55 to US$78, while blazers were going for US$55.
At a leading shoe retailer, school shoes ranged between US$18 to US$30 a pair, prices most parents employed in the factories and civil servants cannot afford.
Reluctantly, most parents or guardians are resorting to cheap imports from China and other Asian countries.
The cheap imports, which hardly last for a month, are selling for between US$7,50 and US$10 per pair at flea markets and other Chinese shops dotted in and around Harare's central business district and down town.
Despite complaints aga-inst the escalation of prices for most items there was a hive of activity in all towns and cities as parents flocked to shops and other departmental stores in time for the official opening of schools a fortnight ago.
Edna Masundire, a 40-year-old woman from Arcadia in Harare, found shopping for her Form One child who had just enrolled at Chur-chill High School in Eastlea an experience she would rather forget quickly.
She bemoaned the hiking of prices of uniforms, groceries and other items associated with "back-to-sch-ool".
"School authorities should understand when children do not have all the required items because with the recent hikes in everything, parents are struggling to make ends meet," said Masundire.
"So far I have spent US$150 on uniforms only, I haven't paid fees or bought stationery and sporting items and as a civil servant, God only knows where I am going to get the rest of the money," added Masundire.
Civil servants take home an average of US$170 per month while most factory workers are lucky to net US$100 a month, money whi-ch is far less than the poverty datum line (PDL), estimated at US$497.
Last year, the Minister of Finance Tendai Biti set aside US$1,4 billion for civil servants sala-ries but the new salary structure has done little to improve the situation in the public service.
Most government workers have remained below the PDL despite this month;s salary re-view.
Manuel Nyawo, the chief executive officer of the Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, said members of his organisation have been shocked by the unilateral hiking of fees at a time when most parents were failing to make ends meet. He said the United States dollar,which is the dominant currency in Zimbabwe following the adoption of a multi-currency regime in February 2009, was hard to come by due to a myriad of political and economic challenges facing the coalition government.
"We are worried that schools have opened when most civil servants have not been given salary increments and up to now we have not received feedback on the new salary structure from the government," Nyawo said. "It becomes a cause for concern when the authorities are not taking any action to reverse the current crisis," he added.
The civil servants, who went on a not so successful industrial action in February last year, have been calling for the government to improve their current low salaries and working conditions since the beginning of last year.
They have demanded that the cash-strapped government increase the salary of a lowly paid worker from the current US$170 to at least US$530.
But the government has maintained that it is technically broke.
Tendai Chikowore, president of the Zimbabwe Teachers Association said: "We feel the government has a case to answer on civil servants remuneration."
The Youth Forum of Zimbabwe said the exorbitant fees charged by some institutions constituted discrimination against the poor in terms of accessing education.