Parents with children at private schools, who, after being bombarded with United States dollar demands for online learning, are feeling the pinch of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With diminished incomes under lockdown, the latest bills from their children’s schools come as a double edged sword, especially after government extended the lockdown indefinitely.
Tynwald South’s Mother Touch Junior School has become the latest private school to push parents against the wall as they struggle to keep afloat under the current lockdown due to the pandemic.
Government extended the lockdown indefinitely on Level 2 with only commercial and public offices opening for business under tight restrictions.
“The effects of COVID 19 have not spared the parents as well,” an irate parent whose child attends the private school while faced with diminished income.
The school recently sent a circular to all parents demanding school fees for the year’s second term saying the lessons would be conducted online due to continued COVID-19 restrictions.
“It is important that our school remains functional in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic. While learners may not be physically at school at this moment, a number of costs like staff salaries, statutory bills, ICT equipment and services (like internet connection, virtual software platforms, e-books licenses), staff equipment and development cost, COVID-19 compliance requirements, to list but a few still need to be taken care of. Please note that fees for Term 2, 2020 is now payable,” the circular read.
The parents, however, feel that the demand was absurd and insensitive considering the economic plight many of the parents find themselves in due to the pandemic.
Some of the parents responded with a petition to the school.
“Many of us have lost our incomes, some are receiving a fraction of their pay, taking pay cuts and are likely to face challenges, not only in paying fees, but resourcing the pupils for online learning,” the petition reads.
The school head, Rita Hwata, however, says that the online programme is off and that the school will only proceed in whatever direction after consultations with the parents and with guidance from the government.
“We are going to sit down with all stakeholders and come up with a position,” Hwata says.
“We will get guidance after the lockdown from the government. We are working with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education,” she adds.
But, the parents are yet to be convinced and don’t understand why the school would demand full school fees in the first place as they are faced with added costs to equip their homes with all the requirements of online education.
“It is not justifiable to charge the full amount of the fees when the children are not physically at school getting all the required aspects of learning that come with classroom education,” one of the parents argued.
The school insists it addressed these concerns in a letter to the parents.
The letter was a response to the petition.
“The school is currently taking your concerns into account as we finalise our online learning program with all key stakeholders which will include parent board representatives, the board of directors, staff and others.
“Please bear in mind that online learning is not a new thing to us, our learners have been learning online since we closed schools in March.
“Our response to your concerns shall be communicated as soon as the official lock down has been lifted and official health and safety precautions have been outlined.”
The situation at Mother Touch Junior is not peculiar to the private school.
Different private schools across Zimbabwe have made similar demands from school authorities prompting government to intervene.
Government last week warned private schools not to demand fees for the second term saying only President Mnangagwa would guide the nation on the reopening of schools.
Primary and Secondary Education Minister, Cain Mathema, described some of the fees as extortionist.
He said that although it was not opposed to online learning, government had not yet allowed any school to pursue that route.
“What the nation has experienced recently where such school initiatives appear to be construed as the start of the second term, with schools giving deadlines to parents and guardians for the payment of unapproved fees or levies is unacceptable,” Mathema told the media in Bulawayo last week.
Arundel School in Harare is demanding fees of up to US$2 500 (or alternatively $139 975) for online classes.
In Bulawayo, institutions such as Petra and Whitestone have told parents to make second term fees payments by the end of this week.
According to the 2020 calendar, schools were expected to open this week and for the first term, they were supposed to close on April 2, but owing to the threat of COVID-19, President Mnangagwa ordered their closure on March 24 to help fight the spread of the virus.