Many schools countrywide have defied government by sending home hundreds of pupils over non-payment of fees since schools opened on Monday for the first term.
Dozens of other schools are also exclusively supplying uniforms to their learners, despite government banning schools from the practice as well as not allowing the schools to turn away pupils over failure to pay fees.
In turning away the pupils school authorities are arguing that it was difficult to run the learning institutions with scant financial resources.
According to a survey carried out by NewsDay, authorities at most boarding schools were demanding proof of full fees payment upfront to allow pupils into school premises, while day schools were pardoning those who had paid fees in part and pupils who have not paid anything are being blocked from attending lessons until they have paid.
In separate interviews, school heads told NewsDay that they were failing to effectively run schools because the number of those who had not paid fees was unsustainably too high.
Primary and Secondary Education ministry spokesperson Taungana Ndoro said some schools had raised the issue of non-payment of fees by parents.
“Parents were obliged to pay fees in full or make payment plans with school authorities where they have challenges,” Ndoro said.
“There are situations whereby some parents have not paid their children’s fees for two consecutive terms and they still send their children to school when they have not engaged the authorities. School heads have raised those issues with us.
“They know very well that they can’t turn away pupils over non-payment of fees, but they are left with no option when parents are reluctant to meet their obligation. We encourage parents to be responsible on the issue of paying fees.
“The Primary and Secondary Education ministry does not tolerate a situation whereby pupils roam around the streets (after being) turned away from school.”
On schools exclusively supplying uniforms to their learners Ndoro said they risk being charged with misconduct.
Ndoro said uniforms can be bought anywhere other than the school.
“If a head of a school defies government and the permanent secretary’s directive, they would be charged with an act of misconduct,” he said.
“Pursuant to public pronouncement by the permanent secretary on 9 January 2018, I want to reiterate once more that parents/guardians are free to purchase uniforms wherever they find it cheaper in line with the specifications and colour codes by the school.
Therefore, the ministry’s position with regards to purchase of uniforms remains unchanged.”
Some schools are, however, forcing parents to buy tailor-made uniforms from them.
On Tuesday, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) wrote to the Goromonzi High School headmaster demanding that he admits two pupils who had not bought their uniforms from the school.
ZLHR says the school is selling its uniforms at exorbitant prices.
According to ZLHR, the uniforms at the school are being sold at US$643 compared to US$325 being sold at various stores.
Form one pupils at Harare Girls High school had to begin their high school wearing their grade seven uniforms as the supplier failed to meet demands by opening day.
A recent survey conducted by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency, in partnership with the World Bank and United Nations Children’s Fund, revealed that parents and guardians could no longer afford paying school fees with only 26% able to meet education expenses for their children.
Zimbabwe National Union of School Heads Munyaradzi Majoni said turning away pupils was considered the last option to compel parents to pay fees.
“Schools are non-profit making institutions, therefore, they need every cent due from parents to be able to run smoothly,” Majoni said.
“If we let some pupils attend school, while enjoying the services of what they did not pay for, then we discourage those parents and guardians who are consistent with paying fees for their children.
“We understand that the economic environment is not favourable for every parent to afford school fees.
“What is worrisome is that over the holidays, school heads opened their doors for parents who had challenges in paying fees to come and make payment plans, but few heeded the calls.
“It shows a disappointing carelessness on the part of the parents. School authorities will be left with no option, but to turn away the children who have not paid their fees in full.”
Government has also been struggling to pay fees on time for thousands of learners under its Basic Education Assistance Module (Beam) programme and teachers’ children.
Zimbabwe Teachers Association secretary-general Goodwill Taderera said: “The issue of fees payment for teachers’ children has caused confusion in schools.
“Some teachers have already stopped paying fees for their children, while government has not met its promise.
“It’s not certain whether this year government will pay the fees because it has been going back and forth throughout last year.
“Government has also not yet paid the 2022 third term fees for pupils under Beam, yet the 2023 first term fees are required already.”
In its first term situational report, Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe said: “The economic hardships and anticipated harsh weather conditions have been major factors affecting access to education in the first week of 2023 first term.
“The situation exposed the lie in government’s promises of free education. Most learners from vulnerable backgrounds depend on Beam funds.
“Government also claimed to have rolled out free education through provision of tuition grants.” -NewsDay