THE PARENT of two Zimbabwean pupils scheduled to write their critical examinations at the end of the year has sued the state-run Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (ZIMSEC) and government for arbitrarily segregating underprivileged children from benefitting from government subsidies in the payment of examination fees for Grade Seven, Ordinary Level and Advanced Level studies.
In an application filed at Masvingo High Court on Friday 28 April 2023, Susan Chikwanda of Jerera in Masvingo province, wants the court to declare government’s decision to subsidise examination fees for 2023 Grade Seven, Ordinary Level and Advanced Level examination candidates in public schools, local authority schools and mission schools at the exclusion of candidates in private schools and colleges, including private candidates in public schools, invalid and in breach of the constitutional protection to equality and the right to education enshrined in the Constitution.
In a circular dated 26 January 2023, the Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council issued out Finance Circular Number 3 of 2023, wherein the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education stated that the fees to be paid for Grade Seven examinations for 2023 is US$65 for all subjects. The circular further stated that government would contribute US$36 of the examination fee for candidates in public schools while parents and guardians will pay US$29. The circular also stated that all candidates from private schools and colleges will meet the full cost of US$65 as examination fees for the year.
In another circular dated 31 January 2023, ZIMSEC through Finance Circular Number 1 of 2023, announced that government would be subsidising the 2023 Ordinary Level and Advanced Level examination fees for candidates in public schools, local authority schools and mission schools. The Circular further stated that all candidates in private schools and colleges, including private candidates in public schools will pay the full cost of examination fees. The Circular stated that candidates in public schools would pay 45 percent of the examination fees per subject and government would pay 55 percent of the examination fees per subject.
In her application, Chikwanda, who is represented by Paidamoyo Saurombe of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, charged that the effect of the decision to subsidise examination fees for public schools and exclude private schools means that for her 13 year-old child, who is enrolled in Grade Seven, will benefit from the subsidy whilst her 16 year-old minor, who is enrolled in Form Four will not benefit.
She argued that her two children both come from the same home and are financed from the same less privileged and economically weak pocket.
Besides that one of them is learning at a government-run school and the other one at a private college, there is nothing else that differentiates their economic and social status and they both eat from the same plate and are clothed for school from the same source.
The Masvingo-based woman said she is concerned that government had made a decision to benefit one of her minor child by subsidising the exam fee but have the older minor child pay the full examination fee and yet the money that government is using to subsidise the examination fees for candidates in public schools including mission schools is coming from the same fiscus that all citizens pay taxes into.
She argued that when tax is collected, there is no question asked regarding which school one’s child attends but when benefits are being extended, government has taken a decision to differentiate students based on the schools that they attend.
Chikwanda said government has not provided the rationale behind this differentiation and concluded that the differentiation amounts to unfair discrimination on perceived class and also on economic or social status hence it is discrimination based on class because ZIMSEC has classified candidates into two categories that are based on the type of school that a candidate attends and will write examinations from.
She charged that this is not a fair discrimination and cannot be justifiable in a free and democratic society which has the rule of law and constitutionalism as its tenets of justice and that such unfair discrimination inadvertently results in candidates like her older minor child, who is enrolled in private college’s right to education being infringed.
Chikwanda’s older minor child, who has been studying eight subjects is required to pay total examination fees of US$192 and yet if she was going to benefit from the subsidy, she would have been paying US$88.
Because of the sad economic situation obtaining in Zimbabwe, which has become an albatross on her children’s right to education, she said she had been left to choose that one of them writes only five Ordinary Level subjects, which are the mandatory minimum subjects required for an Ordinary Level pass.
Chikwanda argued that section 56(3) of the Constitution provides that every person has the right not to be treated in an unfairly discriminatory manner on such grounds as class, economic or social status and that section 75(1)(a) of the Constitution provides that every citizen and permanent resident of Zimbabwe has the right to a basic state-funded education while section 4(5)(1) of the Education Act provides that every child shall be entitled to compulsory basic state-funded education.
Her children, Chikwanda argued, have the right not to be treated unfairly and the right to a state-funded education and yet ZIMSEC’s decision takes away these rights from them.
She said by subsidising examination fees, she believed that ZIMSEC was taking an active position in advancing the right to a state-funded education but at the same time government had made a decision to arbitrarily deny other citizens that right and the denial of the right to students who are not enrolled in public schools is not reasonable and neither is it grounded in any objective and rational basis.
The matter is yet to be set down for hearing and determination.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights
No. 103 Sam Nujoma Street, Harare, Zimbabwe
Phone: (+263 8677005347, +263 242 764085/705370/708118
FOLLOW US:@ZLHRLAWYERS ON TWITTER | ZIMBABWE LAWYERS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS