The Sunday News
Vusumuzi Dube and Melinda Ncube, Sunday News Reporters
THE Government has given schools the green light to increase fees through a pro- rata system that will see some classes pay an extra 33 percent to cover for the extra days of the term, as schools open for the new term tomorrow.
Last week, the Government announced the opening of schools and released a new calendar which showed that examination classes will start classes tomorrow while all other levels will come in next week on Monday.
According to the calendar, the school term will run for 80 days, 20 more than the usual term which is normally 60 days. According to a circular from the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education which has been dispatched to schools, fees will be charged on a pro rata basis.
“The average length of each term is about 60 days but the second and final session will be 80 days. The fees and levies for the second and final session 2021 will be charged on a pro rata basis given by the number of days in the final session divided by average number of days in a term, multiplied by approved fees and levies for each term,” reads the circular.
That means fees for examination classes will include 20 more days while for non-examination classes it will include 15 more days. Clarifying the matter yesterday, director of Advocacy and Communication in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, Mr Taungana Ndoro said the emphasis was on the schools using figures that had been approved by the Ministry in factoring in the extra charge.
“The catch in this issue is that the schools cannot just come up with their own figure to factor in the pro rata formula but they use figures which have already been approved before hand for the second term. Parents should not view this as a fees increment at all, but they will be paying for those extra 20 days,” said Mr Ndoro.
On the overall preparations for the opening of schools, Mr Ndoro said all was progressing well at the same time calling on parents to play their part through the provision of face masks to pupils.
“So far everything is going on well, yes we are not at 100 percent but we are getting there, we have provided psycho-social support to the students, teachers and parents during these times, emphasizing on the need for education to have to go ahead albeit in the new normal. For now we call on parents to also play their part through the purchasing of face masks as part of the school uniform. As Government we are also coming in, working with our development partners, in the provision of Personal Protective Equipment like sanitisers,” said Mr Ndoro.
According to the circular by Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Mrs Tumisang Thabela, non-examination classes will attend classes on alternating days as a way of decongestion, but examination classes have to attend on a daily basis.
“Schools are obliged to ensure decongestion, where necessary, by arranging that learners attend school on alternate days and in sessions for mega schools. Examination classes have to attend every day. They should ensure that Personal Protective Equipment is in place and in adequate quantities, conduct refresher training sessions for deputy heads, school health coordinators and teachers and conduct regular Covid-19 awareness sessions for everyone in the school, including School Parents Assemblies,” reads the circular.
The schools have also been instructed to frequently disinfect their premises including hostels and sanitise touched surfaces. They have also been ordered to designate a holding bay for any learner, member of staff or visitors identified to be unwell.
In boarding schools, they should establish sick bays that will be fully monitored, while visitors to the schools have been limited to essential services only.
“In view of the current (Covid-19) third wave that the nation is experiencing, the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education reiterates the need for strict and close observance of the World Health Organisation and Ministry of Health and Child Care protocols and guidelines. It is therefore important for all stakeholders to embrace this new normal as the Ministry forges ahead with its mandate of providing inclusive, relevant and quality education,” reads the circular.
Meanwhile, the Ministry has revealed that during the first term they recorded a significant number of drop outs due to a number of reasons ranging from teen pregnancies, while some pupils joined the artisanal mining industry.
Speaking on the sidelines of a Covid-19 awareness road show that was held in Nketa, Bulawayo last Thursday, Mrs Thabela revealed that although they had not quantified the figures, reports from various districts revealed that a significant number of pupils failed to return to school after the prolonged Covid-19 induced lockdown.
“During the last term our districts reported that some pupils failed to return to school for various reasons which is a worrying trend. It is unfortunate that we did not quantify the figures because the term was also cut short because of the national lockdown.
We thus decided to embark on roadshows similar to these ones where we are informing the public that such things as pregnancies or age should not deter someone from attaining education. We want parents to realise that their children’s future is still important, so we talk about the various education services which are there for them,” said Mrs Thabela.
On fees, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Primary and Secondary Education has recommended that the Tariffs and Competitions Committee should investigate schools affiliated to the Association of Trust School (ATS) over their high school fees structure which is believed to be influenced by the illegal black market foreign currency exchange rate. Fees in most private schools ranges from US$900 to US$3000, with a few charging more, and parents paying in the local currency are given figures that indicate that the black market rate was used.
Presenting the committee’s findings to parliament last week, committee chair Mrs Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga said her committee met officials from the ATS after complaints were raised on the operations of trust schools in the country.
Apart from the fees structure, some schools are also alleged to be practicing racial bias in the selection of students to represent the schools in various sporting disciplines. Similarly, some schools are also accused of having a salary stucture that favours a certain race. ATS is also said to be usurping the powers of the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education where they wanted to develop their own school calendar.