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PARENTS and guardians are struggling to raise school fees for their children as schools open on Tuesday for the second term amid massive job losses and failure by many companies to pay salaries.

More than 10 000 workers have been retrenched since last year, according to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).

Although many schools have complied with a government directive to not increase fees, parents are too hard pressed with the current economic crisis to afford the fees.

The government has issued a decree that no school should chase away pupils for non-payment of fees, but most schools, especially boarding schools, are not admitting pupils without proof of fees payment.

Fees and levies for schools in Harare’s high-density areas range from US$35 to US$50 per term, which is still unaffordable to most people as the country’s economic situation worsens.

The Standard has however established that some schools, especially private institutions, have defied the government order and increased fees for this term.

Parents with children at a primary school in Msasa Park were shocked when they were told that they had to fork out US$750 for this term, up from US$500.

“We are being asked to pay US$750 and as if that were not enough, it will be increased again to US$1 000 come third term,” said one parent who felt the increase was unjustifiable.

The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has aised school authorities not to chase away pupils who fail to pay fees.

“The exclusion of children for non-payment of school fees is unconstitutional. This practice also undermines policy pronouncements by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education.

The ministry has in the past categorically denounced exclusion of children for non-payment of school fees,” reads part of the lawyers’ statement.

“This term marks an important milestone for school-going children, as it comes at a time when the Constitution of Zimbabwe marks its first anniversary,” ZLHR said.

The human rights body said it was deeply disturbed by the rampant tales of children being turned away from school due to failure to pay school fees.

“This has consequently led to an increase in numbers of children dropping out of school altogether. Undoubtedly, the majority of those who fall victim to this practice are children from disaantaged families for whom acquiring education can be the only way out of a life of poverty.

ZLHR also said that all school authorities should respect the laws of the country and ensure that no child is turned away from school for non-payment of school fees.

“The constitution emphasises the sanctity of the right to education and official pronouncements on government policy have confirmed the position. ZLHR will therefore expect all public schools to comply with laws and allow all children to attend school,” said the human rights body.

ZLHR said access to basic education was a crucial element in the development of a human being, as education enabled enjoyment and fulfillment of other rights.

Meanwhile, business was low at most shops that sell school uniforms as most parents sought cheaper alternatives from flea markets. Some are having them done by back door tailors whose uniform prices are negotiable.

Parents said the second term was one of the most challenging periods for them as they had to buy winter uniforms.

Most schools require that pupils switch to warmer uniform consisting of trousers and long-sleeved shirts for both boys and girls.

Double knitted jerseys which cost between US$20 and US$30 are also preferred over the usual light weight jerseys that are normally worn in summer.

“At the beginning of the year we bought new uniforms for our kids but now we have to buy another set of uniforms for winter,” said Marcia Gwenzi from Mandara.

A shop owner who sells school uniforms along Park Street in Harare said business was unusually low.

“We are not getting as many customers as we anticipated. Our prices have not really changed, but our sales are low,” she said.

However, at Enbee along Leopold Takawira, there was a considerable number of shoppers doing last-minute shopping before schools open.

Kudzi Masenda from Eastlea said the prices were too high but Enbee was a trusted name.

“I was not too happy with the prices, they are still high,” he said.

Masenda said fees for most schools were beyond the reach of many parents who were poorly remunerated.

Source : Zimbabwe Standard