ARUNDEL School in Harare is demanding fees of up to US$2 500 (or alternatively $139 975) for online classes drawing the ire of parents.

The announcement came after Government last week warned private schools not to demand fees for the second term saying only President Mnangagwa would guide the nation on the reopening of schools.

The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education said although it was not opposed to online learning, Government had not yet allowed any school to pursue that route.

Arundel School board chair, Mr Douglas Hoto on Tuesday confirmed the fees saying they arrived at the figure after considering various factors.

“The costs structure of an independent school is very different from that of a public school where the cost of employment is met by the Government. In our case, we meet all the staff costs from our resources which is the school fees.

“The cost of employment is about 65 to 70 percent of the cost of running the institution. This does not go away because of the lockdown so at the very least, each parent should expect to pay about 75 percent of what was being paid when there was no lockdown,” said Mr Hoto.

“Our teachers started full classes online today and they are doing all the lessons and giving and marking work as well as the co-curricular activities that can be conducted online. So in that regard, we will pay them their salaries. The rest of the school facilities still have to be maintained even in lockdown.”

He said the costs excluded food which would be served to pupils if they were physically present at the school, while other expenses like electricity and data would still have to be incurred.

“The boarding houses have a lower maintenance when the girls are away, but there is still minimum maintenance that has to be done. This lower maintenance resulted in the discount to the full and weekly boarding fees,” said Mr Hoto.

In a circular to parents dated April 30, 2020, the school board pegged fees at US$1 550 ($85 250) for day scholars, US$2 265 ($124,575) for weekly boarders and US$2 545 ($139 975) for full boarders.

Some parents reacted angrily to the announcement saying the fees were too high and unwarranted.

“I think they should charge reasonably considering that their running expenses are not that high.

“They already have the infrastructure for e-learning and it’s not like they are starting from scratch. They also have to consider the fact that parents are the ones meeting Wi-Fi costs,” said one parent.

Another parent said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has affected parents’ earnings negatively. Some people have lost their revenue sources completely and it is insensitive to charge at such a level.”

Several other private schools have started demanding increased fees for the second term while pursuing online learning.

However, many parents and guardians have lost their income or are receiving a fraction of their salaries because of the national lockdown and are likely to face challenges raising some of the huge amounts being demanded by private schools.

According to the 2020 calendar, schools were expected to open this week and for the first term, they were supposed to close on April 2, but owing to the threat of Covid-19, President Mnangagwa ordered their closure on March 24 to prevent the spread of the virus.

In Bulawayo, institutions such as Petra and Whitestone have told parents to make second term fees payments by the end of this week.

At Whitestone, parents and guardians have been told to pay fees deposit ranging from $16 000 to $27 000 by May 8.

Petra College pegged deposit at $21 000 for senior pupils and $13 780 for the juniors which is subject to adjustment when Government makes the announcement on schools’ opening.

The schools are also charging fees in foreign currency, but did not disclose the amounts in their newsletters, saying parents and guardians could call for forex fee structures and get discounts.

Primary and Secondary Education Minister Cain Mathema recently said schools that increased fees without approval risked being de-registered for extortion.

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