From IPS By Ignatius Banda, October, 2009:

BULAWAYO, Oct 8 (IPS) – Schooling is increasingly becoming a privilege of the rich, , Zimbabwean parents and teachers’ unions complain.

The country’s cash-strapped education ministry is charging a fee of 20 U.S. dollars per ‘A-level’ subject to cover costs – but a majority of students have failed to register at all as they can’t afford it.

Secondary school students hoping to on to higher studies, secure an apprenticeship or a place in a technical college must register for either five Ordinary Level subjects at U.S. $10 each, or three Advanced Level subjects at $20 each.

But many families are unable to find the 50 or 60 U.S. dollars needed to register.

“Where are we supposed to get that kind money?” complains Zanele Dube, herself a teacher who says she failed to raise examination fees for her two children.

“This is the reason why we are always demanding salary increments. Imagine a teacher failing to send her own kids to school,” Dube said. Zimbabwean teachers earn about U.S. $170 per month, but labour unions have pegged the minimum wage at 430 dollars.

The Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) says that 75 percent of the 300,000 students who had been expected to sit for their “O” and A” level examinations in November had failed to register before the September deadline.

Last month, one prospective public exams candidate took the Minister of Education to court in a bid to force him to extend the examination fee payment deadline, a further sign of the desperation of many students whose parents’ monthly incomes are frequently as little as $20, to raise the money needed to write their finals.

Last week, a government official from Matebeleland announced that one rural school in the district had failed to register even one student for public examinations after parents failed to raise exam fees.

While the ministry extended the deadline to December before the court ruled on the application by the prospective examination candidate, as part of efforts to allow parents time to raise the money, this will not help, says PTUZ.

Minister David Coltart says his ministry does not have the money to undo years of damage. While the ministry has sought assistance from the European Union and various agencies, nothing has come through yet.

This has meant there is no money to subsidise the costs of administering the examinations. Coltart says his ministry needs an immediate injection of at least USD100 million for the exams to held and their subsequent marking. (read full)