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Zimbabwe: Education beyond reach, as school demands 80 % fees top-up

Brenna Matendere

GWERU – Midlands Christian College, an esteemed private school in Zimbabwe’s Midlands provincial capital, Gweru, has sparked the ire of locals, after it unilaterally charged a fees top-up of about 80 percent, on top of an additional mandatory payment requirement of tuition fees using United States Dollars.

Parents said the latest top-up came after another one which was effected at the beginning of the first school term in January.

“In December we held a meeting as parents and school authorities, where we agreed that all students were to pay unchanged fees of $3,600 for the first term and only add USD200 to cushion the institution against price hikes,” said Douglas Mapeni, whose child is a secondary school pupil at MCC.

“However, after we paid that this year, we have now been told to pay another top of $2,400 and USD240, yet we are only left with a month for schools to close. That is outrageous.”

While boarding school pupils have been asked to pay the above amount, a circular signed by Constane Musa, chairman of the MCC committee of the board, indicates that day scholars have also been slapped with a fees top-up of $1,252.50 and USD40. At the beginning of the January schools term, the parents had paid fees of $1,860 and USD200.

“The term has progressed reasonably well despite the anticipated price increases. The tuition expenditure to date shows approximately a 73.23 percent budget overrun and in order to complete the remainder of the term, additional fees top-up per child is required urgently,” reads part of the school circular.

While parents have expressed concern over the fees top-ups, they also expressed dissatisfaction with the quality of passes for students at the prestigious school.

According to the MCC Newsletter No. 1 of 2019, the majority of A’level and O’Level students scored lower than the prestigious, A, B and C symbols during the November examinations. No student passed with an A or B symbol in subjects like Accounting, A2 English and Design and Technology at the 2018 end of year A Level examinations. No student passed with an A symbol specifically in subjects like Literature in English; Economics, Divinity, Business Studies and History while only one pupil had that pass in Computer Science. 

At O’Level, out of 60 students who sat for Commerce, only three had A Grade passes, while in subjects like Religious Studies, Physical Education, Fashion & Textiles, History, Accounting and Art & Design,  no single student managed the high grade.  Poor results were also witnessed in French where out of 20 students, 9 managed grades A,B and C.

Among other grievances, parents allegde the school authorities gave an indication that the institution reared 20,000 birds of chickens for consumption by an average of 400 students at boarding level, raising suspicion of corruption. A debt-collection firm – Equals, appointed by the MCC, is reportedly fleecing guardians and discriminatorily discharging its services

In written responses, MCC principal, Pastor Pswarai confirmed the outrage among parents over the fees top-ups, but added the institution was engaging with the Parents Assembly Commitee to find a solution.

He however defended the fees top-ups and denied that they were made without consultations with parents.

“The December meeting agreed that a provisional top-up fee would be made before opening of schools and once the school had come up with budgets, the final top-up fee would be established for First Term. There was no actual final fee agreed at the December Meeting because a Budget had not yet been drawn showing what was likely to be needed for the whole Term because of changes in prices that was prevailing at the time,” he said.

Asked on whether he is satisfied with the performance of students at MCC given the low number of those who score high grades against value of school fees, the principal said:

“Our pass rates have remained high, that is at over 80% at ‘O’ Level and 100% at ‘A’ Level.  However, we would still want to keep improving the quality of the passes.  Changes continue to be introduced to help improve pass rates and these are communicated officially to both pupils and parents.  Against that background, I believe the quality of education that we offer holistically makes the levels of our fees worth it.  However, I must emphasise that there is always room for improvement and we are committed to see that happen.”

On the 20 000 birds for consumption against the 400 pupils enrolment, Pswarayi said the figure was justified and added that the project helped pupils to benefit from essential skills “associated with being productive.”

He also defended operations of Equals Debt Collectors.

“Equals Debt Collectors are the official partners of the school who cover negotiations with parents who select to pay fees on terms, and all parents upon admission are expected to complete forms that align with this arrangement. Representatives from Equals marketed their product to the Board and a decision was taken to appoint them.  As far as our records reflect there is no parent or stakeholder at MCC who is associated with Equals,” said the MCC principal Pswarayi.

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