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ZIMBABWE: Strong opposition to new education bill
August 12, 2005

JOHANNESBURG - Stakeholders and trade unions in Zimbabwe's education sector say proposals in the new Education Amendment Bill will cause a decline in standards, and signal the end of private schools.

Representatives from the Zimbabwe Teachers Association (ZIMTA), the Association of Trust Schools (ATS) and the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) presented their submissions to parliament's portfolio committee for education, which held a public hearing on the proposed amendments on Thursday.

The changes would give the minister the power to prescribe fees and school uniforms, and determine which affiliations teachers could join. Unions said this was an infringement of freedoms guaranteed in Zimbabwe's constitution as well as by international statutes.

"If this Bill passes through parliament in its present form, half of our schools would be closed by mid-next year," said a lawyer representing the 500-member ATS.

The schools also argued that the additional bureaucracy involved in determining fees would result in delayed or backdated increments, which would affect the standard and quality of education. As an example they cited last week's 1,000 percent tuition fee increase at all government schools, backdated to January this year.

ATS pointed out that the Bill did not compel the minister to consider the prevailing economic situation when determining school fees.

The official Herald newspaper quoted ZIMTA spokesman Peter Mabhande as saying that requiring all teachers to have professional qualifications was short-sighted, because such qualifications were not necessary for teaching sports and other extra-curricula activities.

Raymond Majongwe, chairman of the PTUZ, told IRIN his organisation rejected the Bill, adding that they were particularly angered by the minister's desire to interfere with teachers' union affiliations.

"It is clear that government wants to tell teachers which union to belong to. This is like trying to erase the diversity in our schools by prescribing one common uniform; it is a serious violation of the children's, the parents' and the teachers' rights to make their own choices," he commented to IRIN.

"Government cannot be allowed to direct affairs in private schools - enough damage has already been done in the public education sector under the same ministry, and we should never allow the same rot to extend into private schools," Majongwe remarked. "That would kill the private schools, which are our last hope for quality education and truly free instruction."

Chitungwiza MP Fidelis Mhashu, chairman of portfolio committee on education, admitted to IRIN that most stakeholders were against the Bill passing through parliament in its present form.

Education, Sport and Culture Minister Aneas Chigwedere told IRIN that proposals by stakeholders would be considered on the day the Bill returned to parliament.

Zimbabwe's education system, once regarded as one of the best in Africa, has suffered in the fallout from the persistent economic crisis.

The government recently prohibited all schools from hiking fees arbitrarily, despite hyperinflation. A fee-regulating structure was established and schools have had to apply for government clearance before altering their charges.

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