Government school fees for the majority of Zimbabweans are set to rise at least 200 percent and as much as 2,000 percent next month. That is likely to have a huge impact on working-class Zimbabweans who already have been hard hit by super high inflation.
At a high school in a high density suburb about 15 kilometers east of Harare's city center, fees have gone up from 5,000 Zimbabwe dollars a semester to 50,000. At a government primary school in a low density suburb, fees are up to 250,000 Zimbabwe dollars a term.
Two hundred fifty thousand is about $40 U.S. on the black market, which is where most hard currency in Zimbabwe is exchanged. But in Zimbabwe, where more than 70 percent of people are unemployed, and most industrial workers earn only about 120,000 Zimbabwe dollars a month, the increase is potentially catastrophic.
Parents who reached the Department of Education in their provinces say they were told that the cost of electricity, water and wages and general inflation have forced the increase in school fees.
They are also told that the government does not have the money for further subsidies.
The government pays only a small portion of the cost of running most schools. The shortfall is met by school governing bodies made up of parents who have to find money by charging fees, which they call levies.
Many parents have told the Department of Education that they will not be able to send their children to school next year.
Until a few years ago, Zimbabwe had an enviable record of education in Africa, with a literacy rate of between 80 and 90 percent.
But now, even school textbooks have become unaffordable for the majority of parents. And educators, including those in government service, have admitted to parents that standards have been slipping for the last three years.
William Bango, spokesman for opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, said Friday the rise in school fees would be a human disaster.
He said many parents will be unable to send their children to school next year. If they have to make choices, cultural influences indicate that boys will be given a chance at education over girls.
The government says inflation in Zimbabwe is running at more than 500 percent. But private sector economists say the true rate of inflation is above 1,000 percent. Meanwhile, interest rates this week rose to more than 300 percent.
The hike in school fees is possibly the most dramatic increase in the cost of living since Zimbabwe's economy began to go into free fall in late 2000.