PEOPLE’S Alliance for Change (PAC) president Andyford Banda has condemned government for warning private schools against charging pupils for online lessons, saying businesses must be allowed to charge clients for their innovation.

Last week, Ministry of General Education Permanent Secretary Jobbicks Kalumba asked private learning institutions to give parents of school-going children a break from paying school fees for e-learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic, saying no child was required to pay any fees because schools were still closed.

But commenting on this in an interview, Banda said it would be unfair for government to stop private schools from charging their learners during the COVID-19 outbreak because the institutions needed funds to facilitate e-learning.

“As PAC, we are surprised by the instruction that has been given by PS General Education, Mr Jobbicks Kalumba, instructing private schools not to charge parents for e-learning services that they are providing. I think it is clear that the PF government does not understand how businesses work because any innovation has to be paid for. People are spending time to be innovative and ensure that children keep learning. Of course, we are not saying that schools must charge exorbitant fees, but we are saying it is unfair to expect teachers, who are spending time, schools who are spending time to come up with innovative ways to ensure that children are learning in a safe environment and then you ask them not to pay for that? I think PS Kalumba must remember that businesses don’t run like that. Those teachers and the support staff that schools have, they need to be paid their salaries, and schools have got expenses that they need to cover for despite the fact that schools are closed,” Banda argued.

“Also, the assumption that private schools had money because they were three weeks away from closing is total ignorance! The truth of the matter is that businesses don’t run like that. What if those schools had projects that they were doing and they were investing those monies in those projects? You can’t just make decisions as a government based on assumptions, just allow the private schools to charge for the online lessons because they are being innovative and they should be allowed to charge for their innovation. So, for us, we believe that Mr Kalumba must ensure that he understands how businesses run as opposed to just making suggestions that don’t make sense.”

And Banda asked government to stop bluffing that it would not charge pupils when they go to school after the COVID-19 pandemic because it is broke.

“We have also seen the government saying that government will not allow pupils that are going to government schools to pay for school fees. I think to us, as PAC, we just know that those are just political statements. The same government that is saying that pupils won’t pay for school fees is the same government that is so broke! This government doesn’t have any money in its Treasury, so where are they going to find money to cover for the costs? For example, even in government boarding schools where pupils pay as much as K2,000 per term, where is government going to get the money to feed all those pupils that go to government schools? So, we see all this hypocrisy and taking advantage of the COVID-19 crisis and making statements that are not practical that cannot be applied. We ask the PF government to be realistic and tell the nation the truth. They should not take advantage of the situation to be just making pronouncements, which are not going to be implemented,” said Banda.