Gender Gender

User fees reduction welcome development

KNOWLEDGE and education are powerful tools that make the world a better place. PICTURE: RIPPLE AFRICA

Children’s Corner with PANIC CHILUFYA
MERCY Kalungu, a widow and peasant farmer with three school-going children, of Munga in Kabwe, has to endure sleepless nights before a new term begins. For a week or two, her children are forced to stay at home to avoid the embarrassment of being sent away until she manages to raise the money demanded as user fees at the school, which is about 22 kilometres from Kabwe’s central business district.
Due to this uncertainty and frustration, her only son opted to drop out of school. To Mercy’s disappointment, the boy started hanging out with other school dropouts perceived as troublemakers. The boys, who spend their hours drinking alcohol, are alleged to be involved in acts of petty crimes to support their habits.
For this reason, the announcement by Minister of General Education David Mabumba that from next term, user fees in government schools will be reduced is welcome news for Mercy and many others who are in the same predicament.
Mr Mabumba said Government realised that most public schools have been unable to account for money collected as user fees; a situation which is unfortunate, especially that in the current economic situation most parents and guardians have to struggle to make ends meet. Schools are supposed to account for money and not misuse it.
Mr Mabumba was speaking at State House recently when a cluster on enhancing human development presented a progress report to President Edgar Lungu.
The minister said some schools charge as much as K500 per child but from next term, the maximum fees to be charged per pupil will be K300. This will include Parent Teachers Association (PTA) and project fees. And some schools will be free to charge as low as K100 per term. No pupil will be expected to pay more than K300 and any head teacher found contravening the order will be punished.
The announcement will certainly ease the financial burden on people like Mercy who depend on money raised from her maize crop sales to send her children to school. However, the situation this year has been compounded by the poor rainfall which has been recorded in most parts of the country. She is not expecting to reap much. She will have to depend on the goodwill of others to sustain her already vulnerable family.
Government deserves commendation for the decision because poverty has consequences that can lead to long-term struggles, especially when children do, not have an opportunity to access quality education.
Poverty and education are interconnected because for children like Mercy’s son, when they are affected, the only option is to drop out of school often without life-saving skills. And sadly, in this particular case, even Mercy’s grandchildren will be caught up in the cycle of poverty. Education is critical in the fight for children’s rights by teaching them what they can do, what to expect from adults and to show adults the benefits of respecting children’s rights.
Knowledge and education are powerful tools that make the world a better place as they equip children with the power to dream of a better future and to have confidence to help generations to come.
Remember, children are our future.
Until next week, take care.
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