By Sij Ncube
President Robert Mugabe’s regime wants to introduce examination fees for the country’s seven graders as well as hike charges for national Ordinary Level public examinations in what appears a fragrant violation of the constitution which guarantees the right to education for every child. Primary and Secondary education minister Lazarus Dokora revealed last week that the cash-strapped Zanu (PF) government has resolved to levy examination fees for Grade Seven, which ranks as a great blow to education since independence from colonial Britain in 1980.
Fees for Ordinary Level candidates would summarily go up by $10 per subject. With the generality of the adult population battling to put food on the table, let alone paying schools for their children, there is a consensus among educationists, activists and analysts, the government has its priorities are upside down at a time there is a seeming fall in education standards particularly in public schools. Stakeholders warn more and more children, particularly the girl-child, would drop out of school if the government proceeded with what critics view as a “hare-brained” strategy to squeeze cash out of impoverished citizens.
They charged that it is clear the Mugabe’s administration is clueless about taking Zimbabwe but hard-pressed for cash hence the latest plan to punish parents and pupils. Constitutional experts say one thing is clear though, the latest move is a clear violation of certain provisions of the new constitution passed two years ago by both Zanu PF and the two formations of the Movement for Democratic Change during the ill-fated years of the government of national unity which Mugabe collapsed in March 2013.Section 81 (1) of the constitution states that”every child, that is to say, every boy or girl, under the age of 18 years, has the right to education.” Section 75 (1) further provides that “Every citizen and a permanent resident of Zimbabwe has a right to basic statefunded education, including adult basic education, and that the state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within the limits of the resources to it, to achieve the realisation of this right.”
Takavafira Zhou, an educationist and founder of the combative Progressive Teachers union of Zimbabwe, told Radio VOP in an interview that the major challenge with the Zanu PF government is lack of consultation, pointing out that it appears the regime operated along military style of command and control. Zhou said there is virtually no basis for the increase of examination fees at ‘O’ level, let alone introduction of exam fees at Grade 7 level.
“The majority of pupils are from poor background and the increase and introduction of exam fees will unnecessarily heap burning coals upon the majority of people who have tested positive to poverty. Ultimately many pupils will fail to seat for examinations at Grade 7 and ‘O’ level thereby worsening the plight of children from poor background,” he said.
“Education is a right and not a privilege and if the government of Zimbabwe cannot guarantee such a right, the people of Zimbabwe must demand such a right by any means necessary. The Minister of Primary and Secondary Education must learn to consult widely and be alkaline to the generality of Zimbabweans rather than being acidic. The Cabinet must adopt pro-poor policies rather than pursuing neo-liberal policies amenable to market forces. At any rate, one advantage of localisation of exams is that it is cheap to run. It then baffles logic and common sense when the government constantly increases exam fees let alone introduce unnecessary exam fees.”
It is estimated that about 300,000 children are dropping out of school each year. While some children were dropping out after failing their O Levels, the majority were being forced to leave school due to economic hardships. The figure of 300,000 school drop-outs, over a five year period, translates to between to 1, 5 million, a figure educationists admit “is too ghastly to contemplate.”
A research survey conducted during the time of ex-Education Minister David Coltart revealed that at least 197,000 primary school pupils drop out every year.
Development analyst Maxwell Saungweme charged that the pending examinations fees were indeed a violation of the country’s constitution in many ways.
“Education is indeed a right to every child, especially primary education, which should be accessed by all. We know the government is very desperate for money at present, but you cannot solve the liquidity problems by squeezing every drop of blood left in citizens who are in daily survival battles,” said Saungweme.
“Zimbabweans are struggling a lot already to sustain the regime and sustain their own families. There are too many taxes in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is the country that levies the highest income taxes in Africa and the highest bank charges in the region. We also pay so many levies and taxes on everything we consume from groceries, water, electricity and even things such as AIDS Levy and infrastructure development surcharges when you book flights.
“This is too much. They cannot seek to sustain the bloated government and civil service by stumbling on our children’s rights to education. The solution lay in increasing business opportunities, growing the cake, removing corruption, increase opportunities for the people and jobs and generate revenues from taxes.
Exiled politicians Paul Siwela chipped in. “Zimbabweans enjoy being abused by Mugabe and would gladly accept and pay the required examination fees. How many rights have been abused before and people just became mute and how many court orders have been ignored and nothing happened so what is new today.”The Zimbabwe Rights Organisation (Zim-Rights) also condemned the government move, urging the government to abide by the constitution and reverse the pending measures.