Parents struggling to pay school fees amid COVID-19 impacts

24Nov 2020
Getrude Mbago
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
Parents struggling to pay school fees amid COVID-19 impacts

WHEN Tanzania schools resumed classes from end of June to mid-July this year after a three-month closure due to Coronavirus outbreak, many parents experienced a number of challenges including salary cut, job termination and drop of regular income due to the pandemic.

Boniface Kelvin of Mbuyuni area in Tegeta Ward on the outskirts of the Dar es Salaam is one of the parents who were hardly hit by the COVID-19 shock waves.

As it was to many people, Kelvin could not predict what will be the repercussion of the virus.

But, things for Kelvin started turning sour soon after his employer cut his salary by 40 percent to mitigate the COVID-19 impacts, taking into accounts that he was working at one of the Dar es Salaam-based tourist hotels, in which the business was badly hit by the pandemic in Tanzania and the rest of the world.

Even as he was trying to scrutinise on how to manage his spending, his children’s school fees in private schools were 2m/- each child, making a total of 6m/- per year.

In March this year, Tanzania had executed a nation-wide three-month school shutdown or closure from April after the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Tanzania.

However after three months of a forced, prolonged school holiday, the government reopened universities, colleges and later schools with effect from June 30, a move which was received positively and negatively by some people especially parents.

“I don’t know how to explain, this disease has ruined every plan and the timetable for this year, I have three children in school. I have to pay about 6m/- to fund their education, but as I speak, things have become upside down, I don’t know what to do,” he says.

According to him, a few weeks after the pandemic entered the county in March this year, the hotel’s owner had announced a 40 percent pay cut from all employees’ monthly salaries until further notice.

Kelvin said that, the company (Hotel) claimed that the COVID-19 pandemic had hit the firm’s plans and thus affecting its business development and that’s why its management had taken immediate measures to rescue it from total shutting down.

“From there, I started experiencing the second side of the coin, life became so hard, by that time, the children were still spending their COVID-19 holiday, but soon after they resumed studies, things became harder,” he says.

“I had a few amounts in my savings which were not even enough to please the school management to receive my children, the shock was over me,” he narrates.

“I struggled here and there and managed to get cash which enabled my children to at least go to school smoothly.”

“Apart from my job, I had my clothing shop to earn extra income, but I didn’t earn a lot from it as business became hard as well. As I speak, I am thinking of taking my children to another school which is cheaper,” he says.

Kelvin is now arranging to take his children to the new school next year, as he thinks to be able to afford the expenses. COVID-19 pandemic had brought shock not only to parents, but the children themselves.

“They are currently studying under pressure to cover what they missed during the three-month holiday,” he said.

Mary Wisa, a widow and mother of two and a resident of Kinyerezi area, Ilala District in Dar es Salaam also says that she is afraid that her children’s education development will not go well due to challenges she is facing, a situation which has also affected financing for her children’s education.

Mary, an entrepreneur who owns a wholesale women-wear, cites COVID-19 as a “demon” which came to destroy people’s development plans.

“Before the outbreak of Covid-19, my business was doing very well, I was earning a good profit each day, this made me capable of taking care of my children and their school expenses too,” she says.

“I was importing quality women clothes and shoes from the UK and China but Covid-19 has ruined all my plans,” she adds.

Mary says that she has been paying 4.5m/- per year to finance her children’s education but she has decided to transfer the children to affordable schools effectively from January, next year.

“My first daughter is 10 (standard five) and the second is 7 standard two. Since the schools reopened in June, my children have experienced difficult environment of learning which they have never experienced in their life, I was unable to pay the required expenses on time something which affect their attention and learning as they have to come back home multiple times reminding me to pay the fees for them to be free and confident in class,” she adds.

Both parents, Kelvin and Mary are facing an unprecedented situation that represents hundreds of thousands of parents across Tanzania with their children in private schools.

A number of parents who spoke to this paper also say they were

“I’m thinking of transferring my children out from private schools to public schools since I can no longer afford to pay fees and other expenses, taking into consideration that I have lost my job due to Covid-19 pandemic outbreak that had affected my income,” Grace Malulu, a Dar es Salaam resident.

A section of Private School owners in the city also acknowledges that COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the education landscape in the country, affecting schools, parents and children.

“It is true that the COVID-19 pandemic could derail and shrink development of private schools in Tanzania with financially-stressed parents likely to seek more affordable alternatives like government schools for their children,” Grace recounts.

She notes that COVID-19 had a very serious impact on the private schools.

In short term, due to stress on parents and school finances, with some parents shifting their children to more affordable schools, mostly the government schools.

One of the private school owners in Dar es Salaam who preferred  anonymity says that a father whose two children are studying in his school had failed to send back to school his children after resumption of classes in July due to his worsening economic situation.

 

“He had requested me to keep all of them in the school’s records, so that they can rejoin their current classes next year. I had nothing to tell him. I realized pressuring parents to pay is not a solution at this time. I have already reduced my teaching staff from 23 to 14 to cut costs,” the school owner says.

When asked if it was possible to reduce the expenses, the owner said that it was difficult because most of the schools are also grappling to survive, so reducing the school fees could affect their development.

Recent reports show that parents in low- and middle-income countries will struggle to maintain the considerable resources they devote to their children’s education. The livelihoods of many families have already been affected by the pandemic and are likely to be for some time to come. The pandemic is expected to push 40 to 60 million more children into extreme poverty. Income shocks are likely to lead to many children dropping out of school or not returning when schools reopen.

The education sector has rebuilt after natural disasters and delivered education during conflicts or in refugee settings; it is also increasingly adapting to climate change. However, COVID-19 is a global health emergency of unprecedented scale, presenting unique challenges that many countries were unprepared to address.

Tanzania has ratified the most important regional and international treaties protecting the right to education so as to promote access to education to every child. The National Strategy on Inclusive Education (2007-2017) was also one of the actions planned by the government stating that all children, youths and adults in Tanzania have equitable and accessible quality education in inclusive settings.

The Law of the Child Act prohibits discrimination against children. The National Education Act states that no one may be denied education for the reason only of his race, religion or political or ideological beliefs.