Revealed: How principals have turned uniforms into a cash cow


Parents buy uniforms for their children at Patmat Bookshop and Uniform centre in Nakuru on July 31, 2021.[Harun Wathari,Standard]

Some secondary school principals have turned uniforms for Form One students into a cash cow.

They are forcing hapless parents to buy the kits at inflated prices in select stores.

Under pressure from the government to stick to the official school fees policy, the crafty principals have devised ways of minting money.

The Ministry of Education has termed the schemes as conspiracies that should stop.

“Parents should not be forced to buy uniforms at specific shops. It is important to provide the colours and leave the parents to choose where to buy them from. These conspiracies should top,” said Education Principal Secretary Julius Jwann.

The Saturday Standard has established that in some cases, parents are asked to pay up to Sh25,000 for uniforms, even as it emerged that the market price for the same items would be three times less in the open air market.

And in many schools, the uniforms money is paid in cash at the institution, which means no child would be admitted without getting the mandatory items.

A week after more than one million children reported to Form One, a look at some of the admission letters reveals huge costs for uniforms some which are more than the full fees for the term.

A top city school asked parents to pay an additional Sh17,000 to buy basic items for use in school.

“For uniformity and self esteem, well being of students, equipment for boarding will be provided in school at Sh17,000 to cater for cup, spoon, plate, bed cover, pillow, two pillow cases, bed, a mattress, two heavy duty blankets, two pairs of bed sheets and lockers,” reads the admission letter.

In some schools, uniform include an executive blazer, physical education kits and a school T-shirt. In one school, parents were required to buy three trousers at Sh2,610. This means that one trouser goes for about Sh870.

The same trouser, one parent said, costs Sh350 in the open market. In the same school, parents were required to buy three short-sleeved shirts at Sh530 each. In the open market, parents said this would cost Sh250.

In the open market, a shirt would cost about Sh250, a trouser Sh450, a pull over Sh850, socks and ties about Sh150 each, leather shoes Sh850 and rubber shoes about Sh350.

Yet in some schools, one shirt goes for Sh1,250, a trouser Sh1,450, a blouse is sold at Sh700, T-shirts Sh600, a tracksuit Sh2,750, pullover Sh1, 500 and a pair of socks at Sh200.

National Parents’ Association chairman Nicholas Maiyo faulted the ministry for not regulating the school uniforms market, which has been infiltrated by cartels.

He said a trouser which costs Sh1,500 in some schools can be purchased in the open market at Sh900.

Maiyo said a parent who downloaded his child’s admission letter purchased uniform from the open market was turned away at school.

“The parent was asked to give money for school uniform to be provided in school and it was almost three times what he had spent to buy from home,” said Maiyo. He also said the quality of some uniforms given in schools is poor.

“After one of two years, they wear out and parents are asked to buy again from the schools especially when the children are going to Form Three. It is big business,” said Maiyo.

Kenya Secondary School Heads Association (Kessha) chairman Kahi Indimuli said most schools insist on purchasing uniforms from the institutions for quality purposes.

“We may not get quality uniforms from open air market. Uniforms are an identity and we may end up getting various sheds as they settle for what is affordable,” said Indimuli.

Parents’ suggestion

Maiyo argues that parents’ suggestion to have one school uniform for all learners was rejected. “We could have one uniform like the police and NYS. Even then quality would be standard and costs levelled,” said Maiyo.

He faulted the ministry for failing to come up with a school uniforms policy. “That policy would explain what constitutes a school uniform and what garments would be used for the trousers and shirts,” he said.

Nairobi County Education executive Muthoni Ouko complained that a number of students had been barred from school because of uniform.

She said: “We have learnt with disbelief that the school uniforms have stopped hundreds of children from accessing Form One. We are urging the ministry to intervene and ban school procured uniforms.”

Education stakeholders have pointed fingers at Cabinet secretaries who have occupied the Education docket since 2014 for failing to implement findings of a task force chaired by Kilemi Mwiria.

The Mwiria report made proposals aimed at lowering the cost of secondary education, including eliminating unnecessary levies and limiting components of school uniform to essential elements. The report called for the elimination of components such as blazers.

The task force identified the basic components of school uniform to include a short/trouser or skirt, shirt or blouse, a necktie, sweater, socks and footwear. A sunhat was also listed as key to learners with albinism.

The task force found that many families could not afford secondary school education as a result of “high direct and indirect costs that have a bearing on the fees that is charged.”

Had its report been implemented, a school uniform would have cost about Sh4,900.

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