Mbabane: Former Eswatini National Association of Teachers President (SNAT) and Ngwane National Liberation Congress (NNLC) President, Sibongile Mazibuko, said by law parents are only required to pay for services done, hence, they deserve to be compensated their money, which they paid at the beginning of this year.
Mazibuko was speaking to this publication in her capacity as a parent and not a former SNAT president, in light of the incumbent Covid-19 pandemic which grounded pupils from attending classes.
The retired teacher said school fees are divided into two categories, which are variable costs and fixed costs. Variable costs cater for the likes of water and electricity services while fixed costs cover the payment of schools’ support staff like the maintenance personnel and kitchen staff. She said she vouched for negotiations between the teachers’ association and government to come to an agreement to either extend the academic year by slotting in the months of December and January –months which are usually are reserved for festive holidays.
Negotiations between the teachers association and government should be mutual, keeping in mind both pupils and parents, who ultimately have been in the receiving end, said Mazibuko. She said the truth is that the money paid by parents at the beginning of the year is kept somewhere by government and supposedly remains unused, since the variable costs were not covered.
She said government’s initiative of mitigating the pandemic’s scourge which saw learners staying at home and instructed to resort to online learning and media platforms like the radio and television had been a total failure. She re-emphasised that not all learners were privileged to have access to the radio or online services; hence, they were left out in the learning process. “It is clear that government has justified keeping the money through the provision of services like the radio,” said Mazibuko, adding that it (government) was without considering that signal is poor in some parts of the country particularly those bordering the Republic of South African.
She added that some learners were so unprivileged that they could not afford even the cheapest smart phones, let alone the digital migration set top boxes, which would enable them to access information. The retired teacher said even for those who relished privileges like owning smart phones did not go unscathed, considering that government did not provide airtime of bundles for them.
Mazibuko said it was also worrying that the government did not make an attempt to address the issue of the other classes like Grades 1 to 6, and Forms 1, 2 and 4, who form a great majority of learners. “There are about 240 000 pupils in the classes Grades 1 to 6 and one wonders what is done to support such big numbers,” said Mazibuko.
SNAT President, Mbongwa Dlamini, said the issue of services not provided and compensation of parents was a genuine one, and as a parent himself he would laugh all the way to the bank if he was reimbursed. He said despite that parents were major stakeholders to the teachers association, in this matter, as a Union they were tongue tied, preferring that parents sought the intervention of school committees. “Parents are best represented by school committees who would take the matter to the Ministry of Education for deliberation,” said Dlamini.
Drawn for comment Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Education, Bertram Steward, said as a ministry they didn’t think of reimbursing parents for time lost because in fact, learners had been studying while at home. Steward said government presented platforms like the radio and television, which, according to their survey, in collaboration with the ministry of information and communication technology, covers 90 percent of the country. Steward said it would be unreasonable for parents to copy from other sectors such as the small businesses who garnered a relief fund of E90 million from the SRA, saying different sectors are treated according to their merit. Steward said it might be good idea to remind parents and everybody else that the Covid-19 calamity is best known by God and caught everyone off-guard. “This is an act of God and is beyond human orchestration,” said the PS, while adding that personally and as a parent himself he would not seek reimbursement for time lost due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “Angiyifuni imali yetinyembeti mine,” said the PS in vernacular.