Parents feel ‘back to school’ squeeze

Spread the love

LONG queues and crowded shops characterised segments of Manicaland as parents made a last-minute dash to buy school uniforms, stationery and other learning materials for learners ahead of the 2023 first term opening next week.

Schools open for the event-filled first term on Monday, with parents — whose children are taking examinations this year — fretting over the possibility of US dollar-indexed exam fees as all schools in the province have adopted the currency.

The Manica Post met parents in Mutare, Rusape and Chipinge complaining about the upward spiral of prices, especially on Early Child Development (ECD), Grade One and Form One learning requirements.

Vendors were cashing in on soaring demand to buy the products in bulk and resell them on the streets.

This comes against the backdrop of steep fees for these learners by schools.

Some parents are still in a quandary, having not secured ECD and Form One places for their children.

Most boarding schools in Manicaland are accused of coercing parents to buy uniforms from them as part of fundraising.

In some cases, the quality of the uniforms is poor and they are being sold at a profit.

Consumers, at law, should buy from a supplier of their choice; a right that schools are infringing by lumping the cost of uniforms as part of the school fees.

A parent is forced to pay fees, plus uniforms as a condition to secure a place before inking a contract with the particular school.

That the boarding schools are getting away with it has enticed some mega-days schools to follow suit and instruct parents to buy uniforms from particular suppliers demanding US dollars.

This has left parents with no room to bargain as they dash to beat the orientation scheduled for yesterday (Thursday) and today (Friday) at most schools.

Though most retailers maintained a three-tier pricing regime — cash, electronic and US dollars — an ECD uniform pegged at US$15, has its price doubled in either forms of payment in local currency.

This has forced many to stampede for the scarce foreign currency on the black market.

Some boarding schools have also more than doubled their fees.

Day schools have followed suit, citing the high cost of consumables to run efficient education systems.

This compelled the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ), mandated to protect consumers from unconscionable, unreasonable, unjust or otherwise improper trade practices as well as deceptive, misleading, unfair or fraudulent conduct, among others, to raise a red flag.

Manicaland provincial consumer protection officer, Mr Barnabas Masamvu said Section 19 of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) clearly outlaws such practice.

It reads: “No supplier, as a condition of offering to supply any goods or services, or as a condition of entering into an agreement or transaction, shall require that a consumer — (a) purchases any other particular goods or services from that supplier; or (b) enters into an additional agreement or transaction with the same supplier or a designated third party; or (c) agrees to purchase any particular goods or services from a designated third party, unless the supplier — (i) can show that the convenience to the consumer in having those goods or services bundled outweighs the limitation of the consumer’s right to choice; or (ii) can show that the bundling of those goods or services results in economic benefit for consumers; or (iii) offers bundled goods or services separately and at individual prices”.

Manicaland Provincial Education Director, Mr Edward Shumba said parents should be allowed to choose where to buy uniforms for their children from.

“The Secretary’s Circular to this effect was dispatched in 2018 and it is the policy directive that no school should force any parent to buy what they are selling.

“As they sell their product, they should also tell the parent that this particular product is available at shop X and Y, so that the parent can make an informed decision to buy from the school or not,” said Mr Shumba.

Mr Shumba said all schools in the province are ready to open, adding that necessary disciplinary action will be taken against teachers who heed calls by some unions to boycott attending lessons.

Mr Shumba urged teachers to report for duty and deliver lessons to avoid prejudicing learners, while their grievances are being looked into.

“All is in order, and I have talked to all the District Schools Inspectors (DSIs), and have not received any adverse report.

“We expect all teachers to report for duty, and it will be an individual decision for those who decide otherwise and all necessary disciplinary action will be taken, including charging them. We will follow the regulations to the letter, and they should stand guided,” said Mr Shumba.

Zimbabwe School Development Association/Committees (ZSDA/C) general secretary, Mr Everisto Jongwe pleaded with the parents and teachers to be a source of encouragement to learners so that they take education seriously to guarantee them a brighter future.

Mrs Plaxedes Chirume, of Mutare decried what she described as prevailing harsh economic conditions, saying she was forced to do last-minute shopping due to lack of funds.

Ms Enita Mataruse, of Odzi, said the majority of rural parents are struggling to meet their obligations.

Complaining on the errant behaviour of vendors, a parent, Ms Patricia Chikafu, said the queues at some stationery shops are long and winding, forcing some people to opt to buy from vendors.

“I came here (Mutare Computers and Stationery Suppliers in downtown Mutare) hours ago and have been standing in the queue to get assistance. This shop is the only one selling stationery at affordable prices, otherwise I would have just gone to another shop.

“The queue is filled with vendors who wake up early in the morning to buy stationary and resale to us. I would have bought from them, but their prices are high. This is unscrupulous business practice,” said Ms Chikafu.

A vendor, Ms Tariro Madzimure said they are also complementing big suppliers in making stationery accessible to many people.

“I need to survive. I am not formally employed and right now everyone can make money from buying and reselling stationery. I wake up early in the morning and queue to buy stationery that I will resale during the day. I also have a child who needs money for school fees, so I have to utilise this opportunity to make more money,” she said. – Manica Post