Mukudzei Chingwere-Herald Reporter
Pegging school fees in foreign currency is allowed but parents and guardians retain the right to pay fees in the currency of their choice at the prevailing official exchange rate, Government has clarified.
Parents with free funds are allowed to pay in foreign currency if they wish, but those without ready access to the same should not be compelled to pay in hard currencies.
This means the Government has not changed its policy regarding the payment of school fees, contrary to reports in some of the media that schools were now being allowed to charge fees exclusively in foreign currency.
Authorities moved to clear the air after some school heads started demanding the payment of school fees exclusively in foreign currency in defiance of regulations.
Investigation teams have already been deployed around the country to hold to account errant school authorities charging fees in exclusively foreign currency.
“All institutions providing primary and secondary education are reminded that they fall under the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education.
“Therefore, they are bound by the procedures to be followed when making school fees adjustments, that is to say approval must be granted by the ministry before any adjustments are made.
“On paying fees in foreign currency, the Government policy position is that fees must be paid in Zimbabwean dollars at the prevailing interbank rate,” said the ministry’s spokesperson Mr Taungana Ndoro.
“However, if parents have free funds in foreign currency, they can pay but no school must force any parent to pay in foreign currency and if schools have pegged fees in foreign currency, parents must be allowed to pay in local currency at the prevailing interbank rate of the day the fees are paid.”
Government has already said it will not accept anarchy over unjustifiable school fees hikes, ordering schools to follow the correct procedures which involve the consent of parents for those intending to charge more.
For any fee hike proposal to be considered by Government, schools are required to convene a meeting with parents who constitute a 20 percent quorum and submit the minutes of the meeting with sound justification for the suggested increase.
However, the system at times does not benefit some parents who do not attend the meetings. Failure to attend such meetings will be taken as consent to what others would have agreed.
Government has a Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) introduced in 2001 to cater for those who are unable to pay fees, as part of the vision to ensure every child has access to education.
BEAM are pro-poor funds that are meant for marginalised and vulnerable communities. They provide school fees, examination fees, levies and building assistance.
Some parents who spoke to The Herald commended Government for clarifying the position which was misrepresented by some school heads.
“It is unfortunate that this position (of paying in a currency of one’s choice) is misrepresented. I think schools doing that should be held accountable,” said Mrs Clara Gondo.
“I am happy that it has been clarified because some schools were already asking for exclusive US dollar payments which is wrong.”
“I think there are some school heads who want to take advantage of parents. If it is about the education of our children, they know we will just pay, but that is wrong. They must stick to the law and not run schools as a fundraising initiative,” said Mrs Ester Sedze.
Meanwhile, school heads have been warned that seeking bribes from parents to give learners a place to pursue their education at a school of their choice is a criminal and punishable offence.
“It is also not allowed to force parents to buy school uniforms from designated shops or at schools. This is deemed to be an act of misconduct and those doing so will face the full wrath of the law,” said the Government.
In earlier interviews, both primary and secondary school heads associations condemned the malpractices which they said tarnished the image of their revered profession.
Some headmasters, particularly at public schools, have reportedly been demanding bribes from desperate parents to enrol their children or those seeking transfers.
“I cannot say if it is happening or not but if anyone is taking bribes that is wrong, illegal and has to be stopped with immediate effect,” said National Association of Primary Heads (NAPH) president Mrs Cynthia Khumalo.
National Association of Secondary Heads (NASH) president Mr Arthur Maphosa condemned school heads taking bribes and implored law enforcement agents to initiate legal proceedings.
“I do not know where it is happening but those doing that would be misguided headmasters,” said Mr Maphosa.