Why do we pay school fees in advance?

A student at Nembu Girls in Dagoretti South writes name on book after admission on September 1, 2021. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Someone once joked, “Education is the only sector where customers pay for services in advance, but are happy not to get the service.” 

It seems that this is no longer a joke, but a reality. Students are often happy when a class is cancelled, either for good or on flimsy grounds. During online lessons, they at times log in then do their own things instead of paying attention.

What's more curious is why education services are paid for in advance. We pay the barber after shaving us and pay for food in hotels after eating it. We even pay for power after consuming it (we are however shifting to pre-payment). Some people even pay for dowry after marrying.

So why are education services, read school fees, paid in advance? 

Firstly, paying a service after getting it gives the customers more leeway in getting quality service. You can complain about food or other services before paying. What of education? Who do you complain to if the service was bad? Long after school or graduation? While you can get another meal, going back to school is expensive. 

A middle ground is paying a deposit then the rest later. Paying deposits is driven more by a lack of trust than ensuring the quality of service. 

Back to education. The customer, read student could pay after graduation, after seeing the “quality of education” espoused by a job or starting an enterprise.

That would create the risk that he would never pay, not even Helb (student loan)

There is another problem, the customer in education is not sure what he or she pays for, he has scant knowledge of the content which is prescribed by an outside agent - the Ministry of Education. 

The solution to all this is to make education free, paid for by taxpayers so that the risk of not getting a quality education is borne by all. That’s common in many countries.

The other option is letting the private sector charge for what’s perceived as quality education by the market. 

In Kenya, we have both systems but the public sector dominates. It seems that is changing particularly in higher education. Will the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) accelerate or slow down this shift? 

The fact that we only come to know if we got quality education after getting it and paying for it should leave our heads spinning. Will CBC change that?