Leonard Ncube-Victoria Falls Reporter
Secondary schools want to be allowed to peg fees in US dollars, with those parents paying in local currency doing so at the official exchange rate on the day of payment, to guard against having their budgets eroded by inflation and rising prices of goods and services.
School heads attending the conference of the National Association of Secondary School Heads (Nash) in Victoria Falls also complained about bank charges incurred by schools in the administration of examination fees which is paid in full to the Zimbabwe Examination Council (Zimsec) leaving schools burdened by the bank charges when they transfer the money paid by parents to Zimsec.
Manicaland province is hosting this year’s Nash conference and elected to have it in Victoria Falls with Vice President Costantino Chiwenga expected to officially open the event today.
Nash president Mr Arthur Maphosa, who is Gwanda High School head, said most schools were struggling to cope with rising prices. He stressed that schools were not demanding to collect fees in US dollars and abandon the local currency, but to be allowed to benchmark the fees in US dollars so their budgets remained effective even in inflationary environments.
“While we appreciate different models of collection, depending on the geography of the school, it is Nash belief that benchmarking against the US dollar could make operations better and allow parents or guardians to pay using currency of their choice at the bank auction rate prevailing at the time of payment. If Zimsec can be allowed to benchmark examination fees against the US dollar, why not schools?
“The heads did not say they are demanding the payment in United States dollars. We are only saying let’s benchmark on the US dollar so that education offices will not be inundated with everyday requests for approval and increase of fees,” said Mr Maphosa.
He said it was expensive for schools to submit their applications in Harare when seeking an increase in fees and some applications take time to get a response from the head office of the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education.
Mr Maphosa wanted Government to allow district and provincial offices to have the authority. He said district schools inspectors and provincial education directors could handle the issues of fees if given the responsibility so as to expedite the process to avoid approval of fees when the budget have been overtaken by time.
Boarding schools were the worst affected by issue of fees as they cannot keep learners in boarding facilities without money.
“It is against this background that we think the requirement of fees to be approved at head office will compound the situation. There is also the $10 tuition fees. It’s ridiculous and not worth chasing after,” said Mr Maphosa, adding that few bad apples cannot be used against the rest of the schools.
Nash is also calling for decentralisation of teacher deployment to speed up staffing as some schools were going for months with vacant posts while waiting for deployment of a teacher by the Public Service Commission.
“Applications for more and new teachers should be given urgent attention and deployment should be decentralisied in line with devolution,” said Mr Maphosa.
On the issue of bank charges incurred on examination fees, Mr Maphosa said transmission of money from schools to Zimsec has also become an expenditure for schools.
“There is an urgent need to address this issue. Schools are left financially crippled every time they collect exam fees on behalf of the examination council as they suffer bank and transport costs for business which doesn’t benefit them directly. We appeal to Ministry and Zimsec to help address this nightmare,” said Mr Maphosa.
School heads said schools are also left in danger of being raided by thieves as they keep cash while waiting to deposit it in banks while some fail to fulfil their project because of the expenses which are then passed on to parents.
Schools want Zimsec to cede a percentage of the examination fees to the school or open an account through which all candidates can pay directly and then present proof of payment to the examination centres. To Nash, the 2022 conference is special as it is the first after two years as the previous two had to be called off over Covid-19 lockdowns.