By Veritas

The Education Amendment Bill

The parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Primary and Secondary Education is currently holding public hearings on the Education Amendment Bill, which was published earlier this year.

In this Bill Watch Veritas analyses the Bill in order to assist the Committee and interested parties debate it at the public hearings.

Education and the Constitution

The main purpose of the Bill, according to its memorandum, is to bring the Education Act into line with the Constitution.  Before looking at the Bill, therefore, we should see what the Constitution says about education.

Section 27 of the Constitution provides for the State to take all practical measures to promote free and compulsory education for children, as well as higher and tertiary education.  The State must also ensure that girls are afforded the same educational opportunities as boys.

Section 75 states that every citizen and permanent resident of Zimbabwe has a right to a basic State-funded education, including adult basic education, as well as further education which the State must make progressively available and accessible.  The section goes on to say that everyone has the right to establish and maintain “independent educational institutions of reasonable standards”, but they must not discriminate on any ground prohibited by the Constitution.  A law can provide for their registration and for their closure if they do not meet “reasonable standards prescribed for registration” [section 75(3) of the Constitution].

The Education Act

The Bill seeks to amend the Education Act, which deals with education in schools, correspondence colleges and what are called “independent colleges”, namely institutions such as Speciss which provide educational programmes that supplement or substitute for school education.  The Act does not cover tertiary educational institutions such as universities ‒ though the definition of “independent college” in section 39 is so broad and vague that it might cover universities and polytechnics.

The Act sets out guiding principles for educational policy, the principal one being that children have a right to school education;  it provides for the registration of non-government schools and the establishment and maintenance of government schools;  it sets up national and provincial education advisory boards;  and generally tries to ensure, so far as legislation can, that children in Zimbabwe are provided with a reasonable education.

Bringing the Education Act into Line with the Constitution

The Act already complies with the Constitution in many respects ‒ for example, it declares that every child has a right to school education without discrimination ‒ but the Bill sets out to make it even more compliant:

1.  Admission to schools:  non-discrimination

In terms of section 4 of the Act children must be admitted to schools without discrimination on the grounds of their race, tribe, origin, political opinions, colour, creed or gender.  Clause 3 of the Bill will add other prohibited grounds:  nationality, class, custom, culture, marital status [yes, really], pregnancy, social status and legitimacy.

2.  Right to state-funded education

Clause 4 of the Bill will insert a new section 5 in the Act which will give every child the right to basic state funded education.  While the new clause follows the wording of section 75 of the Constitution, it is not very clear:

The term “basic state funded education” suggests the State must pay for the education, but clause 2 of the Bill will insert a definition of the term into the Act which makes no mention at all of State funding.  Section 13 of the Act, moreover, will continue to allow the State to fix fees for tuition at government schools, and non-government schools will continue to be able to fix fees, though subject to approval from the National Incomes and Pricing Commission [which no longer exists, as explained below].

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