Elliot Ziwira Senior Writer
Now that schools have opened, the word agony is featuring again, this time probably assuming a new and profound meaning.
Not that it has been any easier before, for raising children and seeing them through school, especially boarding school, has never been a stroll in the park; but agonising when schools close, knowing that they will soon open for the new term.
It is no longer about parents getting fretful each time schools open, but assuming a distressed mood the moment children leave home, anticipating urgent calls for fees, stationery and fees top-ups, and remaining agitated until the curtain comes down on the school term.
Persistently burdened, parents are quick to lay blame on school authorities, whom they accuse of insensitivity to their plight.
Authorities on the other hand will be agonising on how to keep the pupils left in their care well catered for through the term, as they grapple with rising costs of the food basket.
Parents are always entangled in the back-to-school web, which pits them against predatory retailers and school authorities, whose demand for their pound of flesh is often construed for callousness.
Who takes the flak?
It is often difficult to accept blame, or even to accuse anyone where issues of incomes and how they are spend are concerned.
That retailers always hike prices, and create monopolies in the provision of school uniforms in connivance with some school authorities, is not new.
It has been the norm for a long time now, which makes it difficult for one to accept their side of the story without reservations.
Some schools have been known to insist on uniforms bought from certain retailers only, thus, robbing parents of choice.
True, retailers need to remain afloat, but it gets curious when four-quire counter books are sold at between $44 and $48, translating to up to $480 for 10.
Retailers’ seeming affinity for profiteering compounds the situation for parents, whose incomes remain subdued even in the face of sky-rocketing costs.
Some may argue that school fees are not paid on a monthly basis, so parents should be conversant in the discipline that comes with saving for the dark hour that lurks in the woods; but does the reality on the ground favour such arguments?
Parents should be encouraged to prepare in time for the new term, and avoid last minute dashes to banks and retailers to avoid exacerbating their agony.
They can do well with setting aside a stash for school fees, stationery and other accessories. A valid question persists, however: Are parents in a position to save?
Observations on spending traits, especially on the issue of balancing tack with school fees, have revealed that parents sometimes spend more on groceries for their children than they pay in school fees.
In situations where fees are in arrears, it may not be proper to disadvantage other children, who will not have access to the tack in the possession of defaulting pupils.
Usually, where regulations stipulate that no child should be send back home for non-payment of fees, school heads are pressed for options.
With hungry children on board, and empty coffers in tow, they agonisingly steer the weighed down ships of knowledge to receding shores.
It may be understandable when parents genuinely exhibit incapacity, which cannot be ruled out where incomes are not following up on the prevailing cost of living. But in situations where deliberate defaulting can be discerned, and where such wantonness puts other pupils at a disadvantage, thus, tormenting them, as they have to endure whatever is put on their tables, then, regulations should favour corrective measures.
The question that then arises is: What corrective measures can be used to enforce compliance without affecting innocent children?
School authorities feature frequently in the back-to-school affair, as they are quick to take the burden on parents; justly or unjustly.
Supposing their argument is valid, how best can they put it across to parents, their partners? It is not taking economic tenets out of step to say that the US$500 on average, that was asked for by most boarding schools, cannot equate to the $1 300 averaging now, when prices of basic consumer goods have risen 10-fold.
It is equally no rocket science to aver that incomes have lost pace, which leaves both parents and school authorities in a quandary.
Since the beginning of the first term, school heads have found themselves in the unenviable position of being carriers of bad news.
To most parents, however, they are not only bearers of sad news, but perpetrators of the same. Calls for fees top-ups, stationery and grocery provisions are burdensome on weathered down parents, thus, placing school authorities in a conundrum.
With some schools increasing fees to between $15 000 and $35 000, as is the case in some private schools, surely there is cause for concern.
Schools have also found a way to the pockets of parents and guardians through holiday lessons that run for only 11 days or so; but which, in all essence, do not yield much in terms of cognitive rewards.
This predisposition to rip-off also reprises itself in the provision of transport to and from school, as one wonders how the requisite bus fares are arrived it. Schools collect thousands of dollars through fees receipts, which could be pulled to buy goods in bulk. The tendency to hold on to the money for whatever reasons before buying provisions should be discouraged. It would not then be proper to ask parents for top-ups, where the money would have been caught up in prices folly.
Isn’t it curious, also, that boarding schools buy vegetables, tomatoes, eggs chickens, or even beef when they could produce them using resources at their disposal.
Schools should be at the forefront in the creation of entrepreneurs, and starting projects, which do not only prepare pupils for the future, but offer them a chance to contribute to their upkeep, will go a long way in mitigating the misery that comes with the beginning of each school term.