By Mjamaru Chitownews reporters.-
The excitement and joy of opening day reunions for most school children in Chitungwiza was short-lived on opening day as school authorities turned away pupils with fees arrears in most government and council owned schools, a survey conducted by Chitownews reporters revealed.
The day began with excited primary, secondary and high school students clad in winter uniforms trooping to school in the early morning cold, only for the majority to be turned away at the school gates by guards or administrators who were demanding proof of payment in the form of receipts or bank deposit slips.
Although some schools had the courtesy of welcoming all their students to the opening day school assembly they immediately chased away those with fees arrears after the gathering, leaving teachers with almost empty classrooms.
The Chitownews survey conducted by its network of citizen journalists residing in different communities across the sprawling town established that schoolchildren were turned away or denied access to school premises on account of fees arrears at almost major schools.
Those who did not chase pupils for fees arrears on opening day promised to chase them the next day.
As news of the shock development spread-mid-morning, confusion reigned in Chitungwiza as groups of uniformed school children roamed the streets headed in different directions as some made their way home while others heeded the school bell.
Concerned members of the public gathered at street corners to discuss the move which one resident characterised as a ‘false start to the new school term’. The debate was taken up on social media were another resident commented that the school holiday has been extended.
“In my area it seemed like the school holidays had been extended as the kids were back home by 10am” said one individual one social media.
Another teacher at local primary school he was left with six pupils as the majority were chased away for school fees.
“In the morning class I had six kids left with only one paid and five others are on charity” said the teacher who cannot be identified.
Another teacher at a private secondary school in Seke that some parents owe the schools 6-8 months fees and they are now of bringing their kids to the schools but opt to change schools when they owe a substantial amount of money.
“Kumacollege vamwe vabereki vakutonyara kuvaunza vana nokuti vane 6 to 8 months zvikwereti”(Some parents owe 6 to 8 months fees) said the teacher.
“So from my own observation vana vemuma college are constantly moving from one college to the next kana chikwereti chakura” (College pupils are constanly changing schools when the arrears get large), said the teacher.
The failure by the government and municipality in building new schools since the late 90’s and the ever-growing urban population has led to increased demand for school enrolment places and that led to the establishment of thousands of private schools to fill the gap.
These private charge their fees on a monthly basis and they don’t close for holiday meaning that a parent has to fork out between $30 to $50 every month when government and council schools charge $40 to $60 a term.
Parents and guardians whose children were turned away from schools yesterday blamed the school authorities for not considering the biting economic crisis in Zimbabwe characterised by cash shortages that has precipitated the decision to bar pupils with school arrears from accessing education facilities.
The controversial Minister of Primary and Secondary Education, Mr. Lazarus Dokora is on record having directing schools to accept kids with fees arrears, a directive widely interpreted as a political gimmick and disregarded by headmasters in Chitungwiza and the country at large.
They painted a grim picture of the school attendance register on opening day with classrooms welcoming an average of five students out of the expected forty. Out of the five who gained access to classrooms on opening day- two or three of them were sponsored by schemes such as the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) or welfare organisations such as the Capernaum Trust, SOS and MAVAMBO.
These estimates dramatize the scale of the school fees crisis in Chitungwiza and Zimbabwe with less than ten percent of school-going children being up to date with fees payments on opening day.
Ironically, the much derided education minister, Lazarus Dokora, had a profound insight of the gathering school fees storm when he directed that School heads accept livestock in lieu of school fees and levy payments about one month ago. The idea was lampooned by citizens on social media and Zimbabwe became the laughing stock of the world when the Minister’s directive was interpreted as the introduction of a new goat currency.
Netizens took to Facebook, Whatsapp and twitter with jokes, memes and caricatures of the supposed new goat currency and the issue went viral on social media sparking responses.