Looming darkness over the fate of bright and needy students

“I know it is not the only way to solve this problem, but it is the best option for me to take,” read the suicide note written by Jane (not her real name), a student who had sat for the 2019 KCPE exams, scored 391 marks out of 500 but whose family seemed unable to raise the necessary funds for her to enroll in secondary school.

Fortunately, her plans were foiled before she could carry them through. Jane is currently waiting to join Asumbi Girls Secondary School with the hope that her parents will be able to raise the money needed for her school fees.  

Such is the cry of many learners across the country, especially the underprivileged, as schools re-open and the enrolment of Form One students continues. Despite government efforts to regulate the cost of tuition fees, there is still a lack of enforcement of its policies and minimal accountability between school administrations and education stakeholders, more so parents.

Donations from well-wishers are not enough given the high number of needy students. Parents and other duty bearers have a role to play in demanding accountability and ensuring payment of fees on time to enable schools to operate smoothly. The Government ought to enforce its policies and release capitation grants on time.

In 2015, the Ministry of Education commissioned a task force, led by Dr Kilemi Mwiria, to undertake a study on the cost for a learner to attend secondary school in Kenya. This came about after public outcry on the skyrocketing cost which had threatened to cripple the education sector.

The task force recommended a unit cost of Sh22, 244 for day scholars, Sh66,424 for those in boarding schools and Sh69,810 for special needs schools. With the Government capitation of Sh12,870 for regular and Sh32,600 for special needs schools, parents are expected to pay Sh9,374 for the day,  Sh53,554 for boarding and Sh37,210 for special needs schools. Four years down the line, the situation remains dire for some schools, with parents being forced to pay more in additional levies.  

The Kenya Secondary School Head Teachers Association (KESSHA) has tabled a request to Education Cabinet Secretary to increase the school fees to Sh80, 452 for extra-county schools, Sh91,646 for national schools, and Sh70,216 for county schools.  Currently, the Government capitation stands at Sh22,244 per year for all learners.

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With the current state of affairs, this will likely widen the gap between those who can afford their basic right to education and those who cannot. It is important for the Government to disburse funds set aside for capitation to schools in full and on time according to the school population. The Ministry of Education in consultation with the headteachers and other stakeholders ought to determine how much the capitation grants should be taking into account the realities and needs of the schools.

No penalties are clearly stipulated for teachers who flout the fee policies hence making the implementation an uphill task. School heads are the agents of the Ministry of Education at the school level and are expected to ensure implementation of the policies and programmes within their institutions.

In addition, since they are employees of the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) it is difficult for the ministry to rein in on errant heads. It is, therefore, very important for the County Directors of Education and the TSC bosses to put in place effective mechanisms to ensure government policies are adhered to.

National Parents Associations, whose mandate is to give parents a voice in matters pertaining to their children’s education, are largely unknown among guardians and are rarely involved in such matters of national interest. Boards of Management/Governance (BoMs/BoGs) of institutions are entrusted with the mandate of entrenching accountability in schools. However, some members of these boards work in cahoots with the heads and turn a blind eye to the transgressions in administration.

On their part, parents avoid speaking up for fear of victimisation of their children– a situation that throws a spanner in accountability efforts. They are not aware of the reporting mechanisms; hence they do not hold the headteachers and school administrators to account. More so, the failure of some parents to fully participate in the education of their children also dampens the efforts to ensure accountability.

To ensure the situation is contained, TSC and the Ministry of Education should impose stiffer penalties such as de-registration of principals found to be flouting policies. The Government should also disburse capitation grants even before the start of the school term. Strengthening the governance structures at the school level will enhance participation in decision making.

For Jane and others to enjoy their fundamental right to education, the onus is upon Government to enforce their policies on affordable secondary schooling, allocate more resources for capitation grants to cushion the already overstretched parents and offer hope to the learners in this country.

Ms Asego works with the African Population and Health Research Center as an Education Project Coordinator.

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