SCHOOL headmasters are proposing charging fees in United Sates dollars or the equivalent at the interbank exchange rate, saying the local currency’s volatility during
the COVID-19-induced school closures had left them in huge debts.

The National Association of Secondary Heads (NASH) said the move would ensure the viability of schools, which have to buy supplies in foreign currency.

“NASH recommends that schools be authorised to budget in United States dollar,” NASH president Arthur Maphosa said after a virtual meeting on Friday.

“Provisions of Statutory Instrument 185 of 2020 offers scope for local and foreign currency. On the ground, suppliers are charging goods and services in foreign currency. This is now the norm in urban and rural areas.”

Maphosa added: “NASH further recommends that schools be allowed to charge approved pre-October 2018 fees in US$ or bond equivalent using auction-rate if the request for US$ is not accepted.”

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The association said the government could set benchmarks for fees or a range that every school should apply.

“Government subsidy to schools is required as fees collected from Forms 4 and 6 only would be grossly inadequate to meet all school costs which include water, electricity, salaries of school development associations’ workers, communication systems, fuel, vehicle insurance policies, and other essential services,” NASH said.

On Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council (Zimsec) examinations, NASH said schools were incapacitated to purchase Zimsec prescribed chemicals for practical subjects which were expensive and charged in foreign currency.

They recommended that Zimsec should provide examination materials and chemicals as schools had no capacity and were reeling under debt.

From the onset of the rainy season, the headmasters said, schools with huge enrolments needed assistance with tents, while those with incomplete infrastructure should also be assisted so that it was completed before the examinations.

Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president Takavafira Zhou said schools had negative balances and had no capacity to do anything to guarantee COVID-19 compliance.

“There has not been any infrastructural development and acquisition of appropriate furniture to guarantee social distancing,” Zhou said.

“There has not been recruitment of more than 50 000 teachers needed to guarantee a teacher-pupil ration of 1:20. The government is not forthcoming in availing funds to schools in order to combat COVID-19, thereby failing to prioritise the health and safety of teachers and pupils.”

He said cleaning and disinfection of schools, particularly those that had been used as quarantine centres, had not been done, adding that government also had no capacity to test all students, 136 000 teachers and 50 000 ancillary staff in less than two weeks.

Zhou urged government to review teachers’ salaries so that the educators could be motivated to report back to work. Newsday

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