In a move widely lauded as progressive by various players in the educational sector, Zimbabwean schools can no longer exclude pupils who fall pregnant from attending lessons, following new amendments to the Education Act.
The new amendments, passed into law on Saturday, will also see teachers being banned from caning errant learners for disciplinary purposes, as ‘under no circumstance is a teacher allowed to beat a child’.
Giving priority to the best interests of the child, the Education Act Amendment further specifies that disciplinary measures on misbehaving pupils must be ‘moderate, reasonable and proportionate in the light of the conduct, age, sex, health and circumstances of the pupil concerned’.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa approved the legislative amendments after Parliament had passed the new changes.
According to the new Act, the exclusion of pupils from school for non-payment of fees has effectively been abolished.
While debating in the House of Assembly, former Minister of Primary and Secondary Education, Professor Paul Mavima described as discriminatory, past practises in which girls impregnated by pupils of the other sex are barred from school while their male counterparts were in most cases allowed to proceed with education.
Mavima’s sentiments come in stark contrast to earlier arguments by some legislators that the amendments were tantamount to condoning delinquency amongst the learners.
“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,” partly reads the newly gazetted amendments.
With immediate effect, every child shall be entitled to be enrolled at the nearest school, unless such school is fully enrolled.
In circumstances where the school is fully enrolled, the head of that particular learning institution is now obliged to issue a certificate to that effect to allow the pupil to seek enrolment at alternative places of enrolment.
The changes also provide the Government with an opportunity to rein in the oft-condemned exorbitant fees, with the fixing of school fees now a responsibility of the minister.
In pegging the fees, the Minister is expected to consider a variety of factors such as the status of that particular institution as well as it’s location.
An elated Cain Mathema who is the incumbent Primary and Secondary Education minister thanked Mnangagwa for putting his signature to the Act while describing it as a progressive legislation.
“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,” Minister Mathema told the state media.
On the other hand, Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta) chief executive officer, Dr Sifiso Ndlovu, said the teachers fully support the provisions of the Act, citing its consistence with modern society as one of the reasons motivating the new legislation.
“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,” said Dr Ndlovu.
“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,” he said.
However, while commenting on the same matter, Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) secretary general Raymond Majongwe expressed fears that despite protecting the rights of the girl child, it was highly likely that the new law could be manipulated for the abuse of girls.
The PTUZ leader is also wary of the lack of consultations leading to the gazetting of the Act.
“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,” argued Majongwe.
Additional Reporting: Zwnews