HARARE, Zimbabwe

Tobias Muchayi is worried about spiraling costs from the reopening of schools in the Southern African country of Zimbabwe.

“I’m over-burdened as a parent,” Muchayi, who lives in the capital Harare, told Anadolu Agency.

“I have two children who had to go back to school on Sept. 28, in preparation for end-of-year exams.”

“Each school has asked me to pay school levy indexed to US dollars and also want an extra COVID-19 levy because the government failed to assist schools.”

Muchayi said his 13-year-old son will have grade 7 examinations before he enrolls for secondary school next year.

He also has a 17-year-old daughter who is in a boarding school and expected to have her own examinations.

Apart from schools demanding a COVID-19 levy, school levies have also been raised 10 folds in most cases.

Parents are also expected to provide face masks and hand sanitizers in accordance with the World Health Organizations and Health Ministry guidelines.

Schools in Zimbabwe closed in March and opened on Sept. 28 after government relaxed the lockdown to allow only examination classes to return to school and finish their lessons.

When the decision was made, government promised, schools would be assisted with some funds to acquire COVID-19 protective equipment.

“There is nothing at schools, government is yet to do anything although schools have opened and students are in class.

“It would appear the government has failed and schools had no choice but to pass on the responsibility to parents,” Muchayi said.

Muchayi’s son is attending a primary school in Harare where he was paying an equivalent of $30 per term. Now he is expected to pay about $100 up to the end of year.

His daughter is at a girls’ school where she was paying an equivalent of $200 but now expected to pay $450. Here, COVID-19 levy is paid separately taking the tally to $600.

Muchayi is not the only parent overburdened, messages obtained from a WhatsApp group in which parents from his daughter’s school indicated they were overwhelmed.

“Honestly, $450 boarding fee is too much but I’ve also checked with other schools it would appear the trend is the same,” a lady named Jackie said.

A different parent, Shamiso, said: “So if they are now charging us so much in US dollars, how many children will go back to school? Most of us don’t earn anything above $100.”

Sandy expressed dismay: “I am shocked how many of us will manage, is government aware we are struggling and can’t afford all these levies?”

One parent queried the payment of a COVID-19 levy: “So why are they asking us to pay the COVID-19 levy yet we are also asked to buy sanitizers and face masks?”

The general feeling was the same throughout with some parents opting to pull out their children and only take them to school when examinations start.

Schools bankrupt and struggling

The idea to raise school levy was reached by many schools after noting that government was not going to assist.

Some schools have no running water, no electricity, no hand washing buckets, no sanitizers, while some students were being turned back home as they did not have face masks.

According to the government’s COVID-19 regulations, every school may only open if they satisfy all of the above.

Most schools are yet to pay their workers’ salaries for the months that fell in the six months lockdown period.

A headmaster of a secondary school in Harare disclosed why school levies were raised.

“Out of 1,300 total students at the school, only about 200 have returned as examination classes.

“If we ask these students to pay what they were paying in March before the lockdown, the school will not function. COVID-19 requirements are expensive, so we raised the fees,” the headmaster said, opting to remain anonymous.

The levies paid up to March were exhausted already and most schools are bankrupt, he added.

Education Minister Cain Mathema, however, said: “I don’t know of any school that is bankrupt, neither am I aware of parents failing to pay the new levies.

“As the government, we have played our part and used the funds. We pledged to sink boreholes, and we didn’t fail as alleged.”

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