SCHOOL FEES REDUCTION COMMENDABLE

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THE announcement by the Minister of Education, David Mabumba, on Wednesday March 27 that he plans to slash school fees in government schools soon is good news and a very welcome idea.
We applaud the minister’s decision because it is a timely move and a matter which touches everyone – whether underprivileged or well to do.
The reduction in school fees will certainly provide some form of relief to people currently under pressure from the high mealie meal prices, the high cost of fuel, the high electricity tariffs and others.
But it is not just about giving people relief, the minister’s decision is also one of the best routes we need to take as a nation if we would like to strengthen and widen the reach of our education system.
Lower school fees, particularly in government institutions, would enable more children go to school and it will also give an opportunity to the vulnerable and the girl children who drop out of school as a result of pregnancies or financial challenges, to equally attain an education.
Let’s face it, despite government resolve to ensure that every child is given an opportunity to go to school, a considerable number of them are still out of school because as the schools fees currently stand, they are still very prohibitive and beyond the reach of most poor families.
Government schools are naturally expected to play the role of ‘warden’ for the underprivileged by charging pro-poor school fees. The public schools should always try and cushion the situation at a time when private schools are charging extortionate school fees.
But like private schools, some government schools have surprisingly resorted to also charge high school fees by deliberately including unexplained and irrelevant fees in the school fees.
This situation has naturally created disparities in the fees structures being charged by the various government schools operating in the same area, and supposed to follow a similar fees structure.
This is another key area that the minister needs to urgently look into and to ensure that there are no major disparities in the fees structures of the various government schools.
Question is, why some government schools, situated in the same area for instance should, charge school fees of up to K1, 950.00 and also demand a bag of cement, ream of paper, a hoe or slasher from pupils while others are only charging K590.00 in school fees.
Why should government schools in Lusaka and those on the Copperbelt province charge different school fees for instance?
Are they guided by the very same school fees structure by the Ministry of Education? These are some of the issues that also require clarification so that people understand fully the reason for the disparities and why they have to pay higher fees at certain government school as compared to others.
The other issue that we feels the minister should urgently look into is the reported lack of accountability of the school fees by some school administrators.
School fees constitute a part of public funds intended to support the operations of schools in order for them to be able to properly and smoothly provide education services to learners.
It is not money intended for soft loans to the teachers as has been reported done in some schools, especially those in urban areas.
Lastly, as we applaud the minister for his decision over the school fees in government learning institution, we would like to appeal to him to also provide some guidance to the private schools against overcharging.
The school fees being charged by some private schools are unrealistic and unreasonable, to say the least, because they cannot be justified based on the level and quality of services they provide.
Currently, the level of commitment by teachers and administrators in government schools to provide quality education, is just as good as that of their colleagues in private schools. So why should there be a big difference in the fees charged?
The greater concern of the schools, whether public or private, should be to provide a noble service, quality education to learners, at an affordable price and not to earn a living by ‘drawing blood out of the stone.”

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