HARARE - Of all the promises the Zanu PF government made during the 2013 election campaign, perhaps the one most supported is the pledge to reduce costly mandatory school fees.
The new development blueprint ZimAsset emphasises that the education sector needs strengthening through a needs-driven system which would have strong scientific, vocational and technical bias and would also stress a strong value system.
Yet as schools opened yesterday, there are all kinds of different fees being charged all over the place. Out-of-pocket school costs for parents are rising. As reported elsewhere in this edition, parents are struggling to raise fees with the economy sputtering.
Given, school fees are subject to natural increase in much of the world. Despite the inevitability of this part of the economic cycle, the willy-nilly fee increases being instituted by some schools are hiking the cost of living.
The significant rise in school fees, can have potentially negative effects on the wider job market.
School boards must be instructed to report the details of the whopping increases that parents are saddled with each term for the privilege of sending their youngsters to school.
Parents are shelling out a lot of money to cover the cost of mandatory charges levied by school districts.
We need to get in line, quite frankly, with both the spirit of public education and affordable education, but also to make sure that parents and students are getting the value that they deserve from their schools.
It’s really unregulated right now and parents deserve better.
There are several possible steps that could take the sting out of these increases. Employers can provide more assistance with school fees, which will matter a lot, especially to the low-income families hardest hit by the increases.
Another possible measure would lie with the fee-paying schools themselves. Some of them have posted impressive earnings in recent years and they are well able to afford scholarship packages. Partial or full, every bursary would help as parents wrestle with rising tuition costs.
Lastly, perhaps the authorities might consider imposing further limits on fee increases.
Only after schools and employers attempt to bring relief themselves should the government move to impose more dramatic measures to remedy the situation.
Fee-paying education does not have to be costly to be good, although many parents tend to conflate high fees with better schooling. A middle way needs to be found to help hard-working parents put their children through school.