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THOUSANDS of pupils across the country were sent back home for failing to pay fees as schools opened for the third term yesterday.
Some of the schools are exclusively demanding United States dollar fees.
Schools were supposed to open on Monday, but opening was postponed to yesterday to allow for the inauguration of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Teachers’ representatives said they observed that a number of pupils had failed to attend school on the first day due to fees challenges.
Most boarding schools and some day schools, mostly private, were demanding fees exclusively in foreign currency.
Zimbabwe National Union of School Heads secretary-general Munyaradzi Majoni said parents were in a financial bind.
“School heads are giving the directive that bursars should accept all forms of payment. However, considering the prevailing situation, some schools, through their SDC [School Development Committees], choose US$ as the exclusive currency,” Majoni said.
“Parents have an obligation to pay fees for their children so that the school can run smoothly. Schools are non-profit making organisations so they depend on levies for their day-to-day operations.”
Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president Obert Masaraure said only 65% of learners at boarding schools attended lessons.
“For day scholars, some schools are not turning away learners for failing to pay fees, but attendance remains at 75%. Those day schools turning away learners have an average of 38% learner population in class,” he said.
“Teachers have sacrificed to be in schools with the learners. Schools are reporting over 90% teacher attendance.”
Primary and Secondary Education minister Evelyn Ndlovu said schools were not authorised to send away pupils over fees.
“All those who are sending pupils away from school over fees are acting unlawfully,” she said.
“The contract of paying fees is between the parent and the school, so no pupil should be turned away from school over fees. Schools have no authority to do that.”
The United Nations Children’s Fund recently revealed that the school dropout rate in the country was rising due to economic difficulties.
Zimbabwe Teachers Association president Richard Gundane said quality education was at risk given the many challenges facing the education sector.
“Government should review salaries to meet educators’ demands while parents should pay fees and levies to support schools, and school authorities provide a conducive working environment. In that way, learners will focus on attaining better results,” Gundane said.
“The mismatch between salaries and the cost of living is the biggest challenge that affects quality education.”