GOVERNMENT has come up with a raft of measures to ensure mission and private boarding schools do not “fleece” parents and guardians through Form One entrance tests.
The move is meant to protect parents and guardians against schools that have been inviting unlimited numbers of prospective applicants to compete for limited places.
Education, Sport, Arts and Culture Minister David Coltart and his deputy Dr Lazarus Dokora yesterday confirmed the development.
Most private and mission schools are in the process of interviewing thousands of prospective candidates at different venues countrywide.
He said schools having entrance tests were now required to do a pre-screening exercise before conducting the interviews to avoid taking money from pupils they would not enroll.
The measures are part of the new regulations Government has been crafting.
However, Dr Dokora said schools were now required to invite applicants not more than three times the number of places on offer.
“We have realised that the entrance interview system has been abused by most schools a lot.
“The policy point of view states that schools should not exceed three applicants for every vacant place at a school.
“You cannot invite 2 000 applicants when you have 80 places. You will have diverted from the purpose of entrance tests to fundraising,” he said.
Deputy Minister Dokora said they were also pushing for a refund policy.
“Every school is aware of the number of places it can offer and should shortlist candidates who qualify.
“It is unfair to just take people’s money without reimbursing them. We are not against the payment of entrance fees, but all we are saying is the scope of reasonableness should apply,” he said.
Schools such as Mt St Mary’s, Kriste Mambo and Ruya Adventist High School have already held their entrance tests for next year’s Form One places with thousands of pupils turning up for limited places.
Howard High School, St Augustine’s High School, Nyazura High, Regina Coeli High, St Johns Chikwakwa, Chibuwe High and Hartzel High School will conduct their entrance tests between tomorrow and next week.
Some of these schools just advertise in newspapers inviting pupils to tests.
Most schools are charging between US$20 and US$50 administration fee per child.
The money covers the overtime they pay teachers to set, invigilate, mark the tests and other administrative costs.
Minister Coltart said schools should set timeframes to receive applications.
“There is no need to continue receiving applications when the number you want has been exceeded by three.
“It is unacceptable to milk parents in that way and we will put tight measures to those found fleecing parents.
“Because of the spirit of profiteering, you will find that a lot of schools keep on accepting applications when they actually know that they have the required number,” he said.
However, some pupils who get four units at Grade Seven and those whose parents can afford to pay authorities, will still get places without attending interviews.
The schools are caught in a dilemma because if they use an arbitrary method to cut the numbers, they are accused of favouritism and when they allow all who wish to participate in the entrance tests, they are accused of profiteering.
The schools also want to ensure vacancies go to the best students in a transparent manner.
Most parents believe they get a better deal at mission schools compared to urban schools that have been hit by under-funding.
Some schools in urban areas have been suing parents for non-payment of fees, while others end up engaging debt collectors.
Dating back to the colonial era, mission boarding schools have always been considered the best option for pupils whose parents cannot afford private schools.
However, some of the schools that are being inundated with applicants do not necessarily have the best pass rates.