State schools can no longer exclude girls who fall pregnant from attending lessons, while teachers will not be allowed to cane pupils, under amendments to the Education Act that became law yesterday, and were described as progressive by educationists.
The Education Act Amendment was passed by Parliament, approved by President Mnangagwa, and has been gazetted.
Under the amendments, “No pupil shall be excluded from school for non-payment of school fees or on the basis of pregnancy.”
During debate in Parliament, the then Minister of Primary and Secondary Education, Professor Paul Mavima, said expelling a girl for falling pregnant had a discriminatory effect in circumstances where she would have been impregnated by a colleague who in most cases, would be allowed to proceed with his education.
This was after some legislators argued that allowing a girl who fell pregnant to continue learning had the effect of condoning delinquency among pupils. The Act will also outlaw corporal punishment as school authorities are now required to draw up a disciplinary policy in accordance with standards set out in regulations prescribed by the minister for the purpose. In terms of the Act, the regulations and any disciplinary policy shall not permit any treatment which does not respect the human dignity of a pupil.
“Disciplinary measures must be moderate, reasonable and proportionate in the light of the conduct, age, sex, health and circumstances of the pupil concerned and the best interests of the child shall be paramount. Under no circumstance is a teacher allowed to beat a child,” reads the Act.
“No pupil may be suspended from school without first being granted a reasonable opportunity, with the support of his or her parents, to make representations with respect to the proposed suspension.”
Every child shall be entitled to be enrolled at the nearest school and unless such school is fully enrolled. In the case where the school is fully enrolled, the head of that institution must issue a certificate to that effect to allow the pupil to seek enrolment at alternative places.
The amendments to the Act empower the minister to fix school fees, taking into consideration the location and status of a given school.
Primary and Secondary Education Minister Cain Mathema yesterday said they were excited that the President had signed the Act.
“The President has just signed the law and we will fully enforce the provisions for the furtherance of education in the country. We believe the Act is a progressive legislation,” said Minister Mathema.
Zimbabwe Teachers Association (zimta) chief executive officer, Dr Sifiso Ndlovu, said they fully supported the provisions of the Act as it was consistent with modern society. He said corporal punishment engendered a violent society and it was refreshing that it was removed while the outlawing of the exclusion of pregnant pupils helped in the furtherance of the rights of the girl child.
“As zimta, we fully participated in the crafting of that law. Most of what we raised has been included. We abhor the use of corporal punishment because it is an old-fashioned tool of instilling discipline. It has the effect of engendering a violent society. We also support any measure meant to safeguard the interests and rights of the girl child. One such provision is outlawing the exclusion of those that fall pregnant. This is what other societies have embraced and we fully support the provision,” said Dr Ndlovu.
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe secretary-general, Mr Raymond Majongwe, said while the act was going to protect the rights of girls, there were fears that some people could take advantage of that and abuse girls.
“There should have been more consultation on these measures, especially on corporal punishment. Pupils and students may end up abusing drugs knowing they will not be punished,” he said.—The Herald.