Students enrolled at backyard private colleges may fail to attend lessons when schools open for the first term in January 2024 after government threatened to deregister those found in breach of the Education Act.

The Act compels independent colleges to register their institutions with the Primary and Secondary Education ministry.

Zimbabwe has witnessed the mushrooming of backyard colleges as parents shun public schools that are plagued by shortages of teachers and textbooks.

Last year, 22 000 learners enrolled at unlicensed private schools in the capital were not able to attend classes when schools reopened after the government ordered them shut down.

A total of 320 out of 448 schools and colleges were said to be operating illegally.

Education ministry permanent secretary, Moses Mhike, however, said the ministry was ready to dialogue with the private colleges so that they operate legally.

“When you have partners you work with in the education sector and you do not dialogue, the majority of the time you then drift apart,” said Mhike.

“As the ministry, we have been issuing out circular directives and we then thought it was going to be very wise for us to be able to engage our independent colleges.”

Mhike said they recognised the role of private colleges in contributing to quality of education.

“It is not that as a ministry we do not want to apply the rules and regulations, but we believe if we are going to be dialoguing, we are going to get results that will favour everyone and contribute to quality education in the nation,” he said.

He said they would continue to advocate engagement and understanding between the two parties.

“Come 2024, we are going to be rolling out a programme where we are going to be engaging these independent colleges so that they regularise,” he said.

“The other issue we have observed is that they have not been coming to the ministry for them to be able to have their levies and fees approved because the Education Act and attendant regulations are very clear that that should be sorted from the ministry and then things go accordingly.”

He further said, in 2024, the ministry would come up with a deliberate calendar and ensure continuous engagement with independent college associations.

As of 2022, It was established that 22 569 students were enrolled at illegal institutions.