When JJ Kamotho streamlined education matters in Kenya


J.J Kamotho addressing the public, Kiriaini, Kangema. 1979. [File, Standard]

This is the week of reckoning as once again parents are in the eye of the storm. Millions will be running around desperately pleading with friends, relatives, shylocks and conventional lenders to bail them out.

Schools are opening and for the fourth time in a year, parents will be required to cough up money for school fees.

The Ministry of Education has been shouting itself hoarse, threatening, and cajoling headteachers not to overcharge parents. So far a string of circulars and memos have been defied and only a handful of teachers have been disciplined for overcharging.

The unheeded government warnings stoke memories of another epoch, 26 years ago when Education ministers were powerful. The personification of this power was the diminutive but tough-talking John Joseph Kamotho whose authoritative directives scared even the battle-hardened university students.

His voice came in handy when some headteachers tried to be cheeky and introduced an exaggerated school fees in January 1996. Mr Kamotho stopped them in their tracks when he announced that no government secondary school would be allowed to charge more than Sh13,500 a year (an average of Sh4,500 per term).

Government-aided day schools, Kamotho decreed, were to charge not more than Sh5,000 a year. The minister was outraged by a cabal of rich parents that had already commandeered some of the boards of the most prestigious schools which were charging as much as Sh40,000 annually and had effectively locked out the poor.

This was happening at a time when university students were rioting over high food prices amidst complains that a majority had been denied funding by the recently formed Higher Education Loans Board.

At the time the policy was that a student whose parent was earning a total of Sh150,000 per year (or Sh12,500 a month and above) could not be considered for a loan.

This had eliminated majority of students and reports from University of Nairobi at the time indicated that out of 7,000 students only 900 had reported back. The others could not afford school fees and food.

To cushion poor parents the government had set aside Sh20 million. There was uproar after it emerged that the government has spent Sh2.75 billion to purchase a Fokker presidential jet from The Netherlands but the Head of Public Service Philip Mbithi justified the purchase that when Kenya Airways was ultimately privatised, air travel for senior government officers would skyrocket. 

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