Schools open this week against a backdrop of rising school fees and uniform prices that have left most parents and their children stranded.
Fears yesterday as parents rounded off preparations were that many children would either miss school or go with inadequate fees and uniforms as the sums fail to add up.
The past few weeks have witnessed astronomical and highly unjustifiable price spikes where most school stuff is priced in United States dollars while schools are demanding that a portion of the fees be paid in greenback. Yet its common knowledge that most people have no access to foreign currency.
It is unfortunate that calls by Government and other stakeholders for schools to review fees to realistic levels have fallen on deaf ears while uniform suppliers have also not taken heed.
Fleecing customers and parents is not a sustainable way of running business. This will soon show unless sanity is restored.
It is common cause that the past few months have witnessed a significant decline in the purchasing power but not to the extent that the schools and uniform suppliers have revised prices. They need to hold their heads in shame!
Education is a basic human right and all stakeholders in the sector should do their part in ensuring that no child is denied such.
We are certainly not oblivious to the rising costs of some raw materials, goods and other services but the penchant to profiteer and engage in a self-destructive mode by some sectors is quite saddening if not repulsive.
Raising prices induce inflationary pressures in the economy and these will also come back to haunt the very retailers, schools and others that have chosen this destructive path.
The rise in the rate of inflation to 31 percent in October should mean that the pricing issue has become more sensitive hence responsible corporate citizens should not be seen engaging in inflationary tendencies as is the case presently.
A blazer that fetched between $30 and $50 last term now demands between $250 and $500 based on what?
Of course the first term has never been an easy one for parents as children graduate into primary school or high school but the price spikes have compounded the situation.
At least some witty parents placed their orders with local tailors, savings themselves huge amounts of money but this should have been just an alternative while those that afforded buying straight from shops should have had it as a not-so-expensive option.
However, mere lament has not changed the situation. The suppliers and the schools have not relented. But we feel this issue needs to be given active attention.
The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe should actively engage stakeholders in the education sector and make noise until sanity prevails.
Furthermore, we do not advocate for price controls but there is need for Government to instil discipline in this sector and many others where consumers are being taken for a ride.
Zimbabwe is renowned for its high literacy levels and issues such as school uniform prices should not be allowed to scuttle plans to maintain this record. We are likely to see some students failing to go to school when they open on Tuesday, maybe delaying by several weeks as parents and guardians scrounge for fees and uniform.
This would really be a sad day for our country. A day lost away from school impacts on students’ confidence and academic progress.
As difficult as it maybe to implement, consumers should just boycott suppliers that have made wild price increases. This will not be practical in instances where specific schools either supply the uniforms or are in partnerships with specific retailers.
Indeed the austerity measures contained in the 2019 national budget are quite painful but better days lie ahead. This calls for institutions and individuals that will not make selfish decisions to fleece parents of their hard-earned money but requires corporate citizens that seek to provide solutions instead of complicating the situation.
We implore that sanity prevails in the education sector. Teachers are parents as well so this whole mayhem with uniforms and prices may affect the discharge of their duties. It then becomes a futile situation and yet a win-win scenario is more progressive and benefits both the retailer and the customer. However, the obtaining situation also brings to the fore the need for parents to send children to schools they can afford and those within their zones to cut on transport and other costs. In such times parents need to be sober enough to live within their means to cushion themselves against the harsh environment.
Overall as Zimbabweans we should pull in the same direction to overcome challenges in the economy. This will enable us to collectively deliver a better nation of ourselves and for posterity.