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ZIMBABWE: New Bill will extend state control of education
August 09, 2005

JOHANNESBURG - Opposition parliamentarians and trade unionists in Zimbabwe are warning that a proposed Education Bill may be the first step in an attempt by the government to nationalise schools.

The recently introduced Education Act Amendment Bill, among other things, seeks to give the minister of education, sport and culture the power to determine school fees at private and state schools.

Edward Mkhosi, an opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) legislator, claimed the proposed bill would undermine the education system. "The sector needs an upgrading of standards - any school taken over by the government will end up limping along like the parastatals. We will do everything to oppose it," Mkhosi told IRIN.

Secretary-general of the Progressive Teachers' Union of Zimbabwe, Raymond Majongwe, said the Bill also undermined the rights of educators because the minister would be able to prescribe which trade unions they could join.

"It is unbelievable that government wants to decide which association teachers should belong to. We have no problems with the minister prescribing and vetting the qualifications of teachers, but which country has ever taken over the business of deciding which associations citizens can join?" Majongwe asked.

Education minister Aneas Chigwedere countered these arguments, saying the purpose of the proposed law was to improve educational standards and make better education more readily available to poorer communities.

"Access to education has not been uniform in this country - some students are privileged, yet many are not. There is a need to have one education system in this country. We will not fail to maintain the high standards we have achieved, because these processes would be strictly managed," Chigwedere told IRIN.

The government had no intention of controlling teacher trade unions, he added, but wanted to bring some "order within the trade union movement".

A public parliamentary committee hearing will also take place, to allow the public to voice their concerns.

In the past few years the government has closed down private schools after allegations of racism and clashes over increases in tuition fees, accusing private schools of charging exorbitant rates to shut out poor black students and preserve the privileged position of white children and those from the black middle class.

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