Thousands affected as private schools closed

About 30 000 pupils in Zimbabwe have been affected by the government’s decision to close private schools after accusing them of increasing fees without state approval.

Armed police officers were deployed to 45 private schools throughout the country to ensure that they did not open for classes on Tuesday.

Boarders at some schools were turned away when they arrived for the new school term and those who had moved in during the weekend had to be taken home by their parents this week.

Zimbabwe police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena told Irin news agency that the Ministry of Education, Sport and Culture had furnished the police with a list of schools that had not conformed to its requirements for fee increases.

The Education Act, which governs the operation of schools, stipulates that no responsible authority of a non-government school may charge a fee or increase a fee by more than the prescribed amount without seeking approval from the secretary of education.

The maximum increase allowed without obtaining prior approval is 10% a year, but most private schools have disregarded this regulation, arguing that the percentage falls far short of the cost of providing education and maintaining school facilities.

Inflation in Zimbabwe has hovered at about 600% as the country’s economic crisis pushes up prices for goods and services.

By Tuesday evening some private schools in the capital, Harare, had heeded the call not to re-open until they came to an agreement with government over the fees and levies to be charged, but others opened their doors and boarders could be seen settling in after police officers had left the premises.

There was confusion at schools visited on Wednesday, as some parents were dropping their children off while others were taking them back home.

The chairperson of the parliamentary portfolio committee on education, Fidelis Mhashu, said the school closures were “contrary to the spirit of education”.

“Under no circumstances should a school be stopped from functioning. Even if an institution is affected by a natural phenomenon, like wind that blows off the school’s roof, children must be allowed to learn from under a tree,” said Mhashu.

“Solutions must be found, and one of them is to increase the per capita grant from the government, which is inadequate at the moment.”

Many parents said they should have the right to pay for the facilities offered by the schools, and argued that they had agreed to the increases and saw no reason why they should not be allowed to pay.

Minister of Education Aeneas Chigwedere remained adamant that the schools would not reopen until they complied with the government regulation, but regretted that pupils would miss lessons.

The closure of the private schools at the beginning of the second term follows the suspension of 92 school principals last term over the same issue.

In a further development, the principal of one of the independent schools was arrested on Wednesday night.

WH “Dick” Turpin of Peterhouse in Marondera, about 80km east of the capital, Harare, was taken into custody, the school confirmed on Thursday. However, the person contacted did not want to elaborate on the reason the police gave for Turpin’s arrest.—Irin

Additional reporting by Marianne Merten

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