TEACHERS unions have warned of unprecedented school dropouts as parents struggle to raise school fees following a government-imposed 33% hike for the extended term.
Schools reopen today for examination classes, but parents have accused the government of ambushing them as they were given only four days to raise fees and related costs for the new term.
Permanent secretary in the Primary and Secondary Education ministry Tumisang Thabela said government had approved schools fees increases on a pro rata basis, which translates to a 33% hike, since the term was 80 days long, unlike the usual 60 days of an ordinary term.
In the circular, Thabela said examination classes would attend schools everyday while the rest of the learners will be alternating to allow adherence to COVID-19 protocols.
Teacher representatives, however, notified government that it was unlikely their members would attend lessons today as they were incapacitated.
They urged government to utilise part of the funds received by the government from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) under the Special Drawing Rights to revamp the education sector.
According to the new calendar announced by government, non-examination classes will reopen on September 6, 2021 and schools will close on December 17, 2021 for all learners.
Amalgamated Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz) mobilised teachers and parents to stage a demonstration today, saying they were all not prepared for the reopening.
“We conducted a snap survey among parents in Zimbabwe’s 72 education districts and the result showed that the parents were not ready for schools to reopen because they can’t afford the fees being charged,” Artuz president Orbet Masaraure said.
“There are various outstanding issues, hence reopening of schools will be a flop. Both teachers and parents are incapacitated. The COVID-19 lockdowns wiped away citizens’ savings and teachers have not been spared. The date of the reopening of schools was announced at a time teachers had already used up their meagre earnings. By the way, teachers don’t last for a day with their salaries. Teachers have a significant number of children in school and they can’t afford to pay for their fees, let alone travel to their work places.”
Zimbabwe National Teachers Union chief executive Manuel Nyawo said government’s policy guidelines on reopening schools were vague and likely to cause confusion.
Nyawo wrote a letter to Thabela, dated August 27, 2021, demanding that government revise the guidelines and address concerns raised by teachers on salaries and working conditions to ensure smooth reopening of schools.
“We would be happy madam if you will give clarity on more serious concerns regarding the reopening of schools,”
“Our members, including those from sister unions, are disgruntled. It should not surprise you if you get the usual bad news that there is no effective teaching and learning in schools as teachers are generally disgruntled over salaries. You allowed schools to technically increase fees under a naive argument that is devoid of logic, but you could not demand that teachers should be paid reasonably in order to motivate them as they go back to work.”
Zimbabwe Teachers Association secretary-general Goodwill Taderera bemoaned lack of COVID-19 statistics to inform stakeholders about the preparedness of schools for reopening.
“We believe that more consultations could have been done in order to ensure that stakeholders such as staff associations, parents, donors and communities are involved in mobilising resources, to ensure that schools run smoothly amid the COVID-19 pandemic,”
Education Coalition of Zimbabwe acting national co-ordinator Clemence Nhliziyo told NewsDay that there was need to invest in the education sector using part of the IMF grant in procuring personal protective equipment (PPEs) and making sure that schools were safe.
Some parents were sceptical that the schools would reopen because as the impasse between teachers and government over salaries was unresolved.
Some said they had failed to raise fees for their children as there had been limited industrial activity during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Others raised concern over the safety of their children as they were financially incapable of providing enough PPE as required by government.
Addressing a post-Cabinet media briefing recently, Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said when schools opened, parents would be asked to help government by providing PPE.
Government has also imposed mandatory vaccination by barring its uninoculated workers from workplaces but has remained mum on unvaccinated teachers, amid reports that majority of them had not yet received their jabs.
Contacted for comment Thabela said she was not aware of the government position on unvaccinated teachers. She said she had been out of office and referred questions to ministry spokesperson Taungana Ndoro.
“I am travelling and I have been out of the office,” Thabela said.
“The spokesperson might know whether there is any communication from the relevant ministries on that issue.”
Ndoro’s number was not reachable.