BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA/HARRIET CHIKANDIWA
PRIVATE schools are reportedly insisting on sticking to their own calendar, arguing that their pupils have been attending lessons online during the period public schools were closed.
Earlier this year, government rejected a request by private schools to adhere to their own calendar and threatened to deregister those that defied the timetable it had set.
The government school calendar has been inconsistent since the first COVID-19 case was recorded in March 2020, owing to the lockdown restrictions put in place to contain the spread of the pandemic.
The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Primary and Secondary Education recently invited the Association of Trust Schools to give oral evidence on their operations during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.
This was after MPs had accused private schools, of charging hefty fees, setting their own calendar and demanding school fees in foreign currency, among other allegations.
While presenting the report on the investigation on the operations of private schools, chairperson of the Education committee Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga said the association stated that its schools were bound by the Education Amendment Act.
“We raised the issue to say how then do you come back and insist that you want your own separate kind of school calendar? Their argument was that because we were teaching and the kids from our trust schools were engaging in lessons,” Misihairabwi-Mushonga said.
“Therefore, we felt that they needed to take a break and when the government insisted that we continue, you remember that time when they were brought back before the other lockdown; we noted their criteria that effectively the trust schools were operating independently outside the government. From a legal point of view, as a trust, they constituted themselves that somebody is bound by the trust rules.”
The private schools defended the high fees which they argued were commensurate with the services and quality of education they offered.
“We raised the issue of online (learning) because it had been subject to the issues that had been raised here that even in circumstances where children were not going to school, doing online lessons — we were not having lesser school fees because children were not physically going to school,” Misihairabwi-Mushonga said.
“We queried that it did not make sense to charge online costs at the level of the same school fees structure, even in circumstances where the kids were actually not going to school. Their argument was: the money that is being paid as school fees was going towards the teacher. The teacher is not necessarily on leave. They may not be doing face-to-face interaction, but they are still at work and, therefore, we expect parents to pay the online school fees.”
The committee recommended that the Primary and Secondary Education ministry supervises all schools in Zimbabwe, regardless of status.
The committee also asked the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission to investigate reports of human rights violations and unfair treatment of members of staff at private schools, racism and discrimination against black teachers, high foreign currency fee structures and bullying of parents where they are not at liberty to discuss issues concerning their children.
Misihairabwi-Mushonga said it was clear that there were perceptions that there are racial issues to do with salaries — there are arguments that in trust schools, the salaries for the black teachers are lower than those of their white counterparts.
Shurugwi North MP Robson Nyathi called on government to take action against schools that abuse public funds.