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Monday, June 27, 2022

Educational rights: A mirage in Zimbabwe?

…as Africa commemorates Day of the African Child

Emmanuel Chitsika

The Day of the African Child set following protests in South Africa that led to the famous yet brutal murder of Hector Petersen on June 16, 1976 in Soweto over colonial imbalances in which the Apartheid regime descended heavily on innocent school children has been a day to remember on the continent’s calendar.
The fact that the black children protested over educational injustices and inequalities gave a clear message to leaders of countries that ratified the commemoration and thus compelling them to act in addressing those very challenges in own educational systems.
This year as the African population commemorates the day, it is critical for governments to have a serious self-introspection and review on progress of getting rid of barriers that hinder educational equality.
Since the year 2013, its now nine years down the line and that period should be long enough for policy reviews as well as how far countries have gone towards achievement of set goals.
Running under the theme ‘Eliminating harmful practices affecting children: progress on policy and practice since 2013’, one basic right to children which is education needs to be examined and how far have governments gone in ensuring children rights are promoted.
Section 75(a) of the constitution of Zimbabwe stipulates that “Every citizen or permanent resident of Zimbabwe has a right to basic state-funded, including adult basic education” while section 81 (1) (f) also provides that “Every child, that is to say every boy or girl under the age of 18 has the right to education”.
With all such commitments and incorporation into the supreme law of the land, it remains to be seen if government has or will sincerely adhere and or conform to the law by simply putting into practice the theory.
Of late examination board Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (ZIMSEC) introduced new examination fees for 2022 for the Grade 7, Ordinary and Advanced levels pegged in US $ which some sections of the society feel are exorbitant considering what most parents earn and the ever rising of living.
“The Zimbabwe School Examinations Council would like to inform its valued stakeholders of the gazetted examination registration fees for the November 2022 examinations. The government will be subsidizing examination fees by 55 percent for candidates in public schools, local authority schools and non-profit Mission schools. All candidates in private schools and colleges including private candidates in public schools will pay the full cost of the examination fees.
“The examination fees are however pegged against the US $ however, parents and guardians are advised to pay the fees at the prevailing interbank rate as at July 22 which will be communicated by ZIMSEC to all centres,” read the communication by ZIMSEC.
In a bid to lessen the intensity of the matters, government chipped in saying they would subsidize the fees by paying 55 percent while parents assume responsibility over the remaining 45 but it is the fact that only pupils in public schools are given the reprieve at the expense of those in the private sector.
One parent Herman Karimakwenda said if government considers pupils in public schools at the expense of those in the other sector that is tantamount to discrimination instead of treating them equally.
“Concerning the right to education, how can government say pupils in private schools are not entitled to subsidies while those in public sector get them? That is a signal of discrimination on part of government because if the pupils are all Zimbabweans, why discriminate? Most pupils in newly built locations where there are no public schools have no option than attending private schools in such areas, but what would be of their situation if government selectively apply the law?
“Government should not discriminate school children irrespective of their parents’ status, where they stay or even the schools they attend. Children must be treated equally. The examination fees set are exorbitant considering the salaries most people are getting. The recently gazetted salaries for example domestic workers that is between ZW $ 10 000 and ZW $ 11 576 per month falls way below the basic demands and one would wonder how such parents would pay the fees for their kids,” said Karimakwenda.
Statutory Instrument (S.I) 102 of 2022 set the minimum wage for a gardener or yard worker in Zimbabwe between ZW $ 10 000 and ZW $ 11 576 which is US $32 and ZW2 and ZW$ 37 respectively if exchanged at the current Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe official rate.
Parent Rangarirai Makuwerere said government has neglected its role to safeguard the rights of children by failing to make sure education is accessible to all.
“Right now the examination fees set by ZIMSEC in foreign currency falls way beyond the reach of many parents. How can government allow ZIMSEC to charge fees in forex when most of their parents are paid in local currency?
“Education in this case has seized to be a basic right because when government turns a blind eye on children in private sector of learning while they subsidize for those in public schools, it becomes discriminatory,” said Makuwerere.
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president Dr Takavafira Zhou said the point of subsidizing by government is propaganda as everyone knows they won’t pay ZIMSEC the arrears.
“So-called government subsidization is nothing other than propaganda for cheap political expediency as that money is never remitted to ZIMSEC resulting in the examination body failing to pay markers. Government should mellow down to a more constructive approach permeable to reason and facts where basic education is free up to ordinary level while upwards it becomes accessible and affordable.
“The examination fees set are not only exorbitant and unjustified, but also callous and punitive and a monument of Zimbabwean injustice. With such a fees structure, many learners from poor backgrounds would not be able to pay the fees and thus affect the number of learners sitting for the examinations,” argued Dr Zhou.
All this leaves to question the fact that children are exposed to the notion of the ‘haves and have-nots’ too early in life, which in turn bottlenecks the whole system.
It does not seem like much budget preference is given to the education system not only in Zimbabwe but also across the continent, and with government claiming to have subsidized examination fees, consideration to the poor remains veiled in obscurity.

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