Editorial Comment: Education must remain affordable

Education, as a basic right for every child, should remain accessible and affordable.
Reports that boarding schools countrywide have increased their fees for next term three-fold are a cause for concern.
This calls for school administrators to act reasonably and humanely in coming up with non-punitive fees structures.

The Government should engage schools and come up with solutions to ensure that schools remain open, while shielding parents from unjustified increases.

The hikes are in some cases out of sync with the quality of services offered.
Worse still, the proposed fees do not take into account the average parent’s earnings.

Although the Government says it has not approved any increase, parents with children enrolling for Form One next year are being asked to pay the high fees to secure places for their children.

In justifying the fees hikes, school authorities say it is part of the regular reviews to ensure that they are adequately resourced to cushion themselves from the prevailing harsh economic climate.

While it is inevitable for schools to review fees in line with inflation, the increases should be reasonable, taking into account that parents were already struggling to make ends met.

Schools must explore cost-cutting measures to remove the need to increase fees to meet running costs.
There should be consultations with parents on what their children can forgo.

Considering that some schools are already charging high fees, we call for urgent dialogue between the Government and schools, to hammer out solutions well before the opening of the 2020 first term.

Unless the fees issue is addressed, the first term is likely to be characterised by massive transfers as parents and guardians move their children to schools they can afford.

That will exert pressure on mission and Government schools which are already battling with high enrolments against the backdrop of constrained resources.

We would not want to see a situation where schools are forced to reintroduce hot-seating to accommodate large numbers of pupils migrating from expensive schools, or the mushrooming of sub-standard private colleges.

We believe fees should not be a barrier to education, but should ensure that pupils are accommodated in institutions that match their parents’ pockets, without making it the preserve of the well-heeled.

There is need to match fees with the quality of service offered, be it food or examination results.
Some parents have often questioned the fees matrix of some learning institutions, especially boarding schools, that make parents pay for facilities that are already available at the schools like science laboratories and libraries.

While there is need to cover replacement costs, these needed to be kept low.
To stop unjustified fees increases, we encourage the Government to put in place a policy that stops schools from selling uniforms, which are priced beyond the reach of many families and constitutes a big percentage of the invoice.

With indications also that out of these outrageous fees, the lion’s share is going towards the purchase of food, schools should seriously consider using arable land allocated to them for farming to feed their pupils.
A number of boarding schools, both mission and Government, are on farms.

The decision to locate schools on farms was premised on the need to create an environment where pupils can put into practice whatever they would have learnt.

As a result, some schools became hubs of entrepreneurship by running successful farming projects.
Some of these boarding schools used rear cattle, poultry, goats and other livestock for education purposes and consumption.
The bulk of the farm produce would find its way into the school kitchen, while the remainder would be sold, with profits being reinvested on the farms or in other day-to-day school needs.

That practice seems to have died a natural death, judging by the growing demand for groceries on most boarding schools’ requirements.

Boarding schools need to re-examine their courses and promote production.
If anything, schools should leverage on the decision by the Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec) to include Agriculture as an examinable subject, to engage in self-sustaining farming activities.

We urge the Government and school authorities to ensure that education remains affordable, while schools remain viable.