BY DONALD NYANDORO
It is illegal for schools to turn away pupils due to non-payment of levies and tuition fees, Primary and Secondary Education secretary Tumisang Thabela has said.
Speaking during a tour of Westlea Council Primary School in Harare on Tuesday to assess interventions put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 following the reopening of schools, Thabela warned schools authorities against turning pupils away for non-payment of fees.
She said learners’ right to education was an inalienable right which could not be compromised.
“I would like to remind parents and our heads that no child will be sent away from school because they have not paid fees. That is what the Education Act says . . . The contract of fees is between the parent and the school. They have to agree on terms of payment, as they have to approach the school and make agreements on terms and not interfere with the child’s education journey.”
Several schools have reportedly been chasing away pupils who have not settled their fees, particularly those in boarding schools. School authorities were said to be demanding cash upfront before children could enter school premises.
Parents have been complaining over the rushed schools reopening, saying they needed to be given time to raise fees after their incomes were severely affected by the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Parents also say the situation has been worsened by the decision by the government to authorise a 33% fee hike after introducing a school term with 80 days.
Thabela urged parents to lodge complaints through the ministry’s toll-free line if they are faced with challenges relating to learners being turned away by school authorities.
“Parents who have queries about schools raising fees without approval from the permanent secretary or sending children away, we now have a toll-free line 317 where you can tell us your problem and will try to the best of our ability to assist.”
Thabela challenged schools to lead and initiate viable income-generating projects to supplement finances.
“We cannot continue to deal with schools as if they are at a position where we just have to be drawing money from parents for survival. COVID-19 showed us that fees are not there all the time, but schools need to survive to pay its employees. Through our ministry, we came up with a commercial projects policy where every school should be run as a commercial entity and be able to survive from other disruptions,” she added.