Principals are managing a silent crisis even as efforts to mop up candidates under the 100 per cent transition to join secondary schools get underway, with a number of students unable to raise tuition fees.
A huge number of these students, it emerged, scored high marks in Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations and reported to secondary schools without fees or adequate admission items.
Principals are now caught between a rock and a hard place as the needy cases rise, with the government only paying fees for a few.
“I have 10 cases in my school and I have admitted them. They came with nothing save for the calling letters. If you sent them away, you will get a backlash. We order the uniforms, beddings and books from suppliers and when we get such cases, we normally give them for free,” said Gerald Orina, the Kakamega High School Principal.
Mr Orina said in some cases, MPs have made commitments to cater for the tuition fees of such students but only a few of them honour their pledges, saying some take advantage of the situation to gain cheap political mileage.
Kenya Secondary Heads Association (KESSHA) national chairman Kahi Indimuli said a number of secondary school heads are managing needy cases whose fees are not paid.
“I also have about nine. We have managed to get well-wishers to pay fees for as few but we do not know what will happen in case we don’t get sponsors for the rest,” said Indimuli, who is the Principal of Machakos High School.
This is despite Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha assurance that the Government will assess situations of all cases for help.
“We encourage principals to admit these children. After that, they will write to us and we shall dispatch a team to assess each case and settle fees for the deserving ones,” Magoha said.
However, it emerged that only a few cases have been picked up by the ministry, leaving school heads with a silent crisis.
Indimuli said that the number reported this year is double that of last year.
The school facilities available in the schools have been overstretched and some principals have been forced to dig into their pockets in a bid to ensure all the students reporting have been admitted since its a government directive to have all candidates who sat for the 2021 KCPE exams transition to Form One.
Interviews with principals across the country have revealed that the students may study for even a year without getting sponsorship.
“As of now, we cannot send them home to look for fees and we only hope that well-wishers can come in to rescue the situation. But as for next year, we shall be admitting another cohort and this would make it hard to continue keeping them in schools without fees,” said Indimuli
Some principals confided to the Saturday Standard that some of the students who were admitted last year under the 100 per cent transition have never received any sponsorship, a move that has forced the school heads to craft alternative means of maintaining them in school.
Magoha directed secondary school principals to ensure all Form One students are admitted regardless whether they pay tuition fee or not, saying the government policy is to fast track 100 per cent transition from primary to secondary.
“We have 9,000 scholarships for such students. As a principal, when such students come, just admit them and ensure you give them all the basic requirements and forward his name to us. We shall then put such students on a four-year scholarship programme,” said Magoha.
He added: “We have many students out there who have not reported to school. The number is larger than usual and it’s scary. We are asking parents whether they have school fees or not, to have the students admitted and their needs will be taken care of by the government.”
Indimuli said that this year, the number of needy students reporting to various schools across the country without tuition fees is very high and that they need financial support in order to continue admitting the students.
Basic Education Principal Secretary Julius Jwan, however, says the issue is being blown out of proportion.
"The issue is being blown out of proportion. The government pays Sh22, 224 per student in all our public schools. If parents cannot afford boarding fee, let them take their children to day schools," said Jwan
"We have started giving out the 9,000 Elimu scholarships for the candidates who are really poor after their vetting process was completed. We are also requesting parents whose children have been vetted and notified to have been awarded the scholarship to proceed to school," he added.
According to the PS, the many cases that have been reported are those of candidates joining boarding schools and not public day schools.
He went on : "The number of needy cases this time round is very high and the scholarship may not absorb all of them. We shall only take those students in dire need of help after thorough investigation and the rest should join public day schools."
He said the government is committed at fast tracking the implementation of the 100 per cent transition, arguing that no student should miss out in the ongoing form one admissions.
Indimuli agrees that though the government has tried to get scholarships for some students, the numbers have overstretched the available scholarships.
“We are still receiving students who report to school with nothing at all. They are not on the Equity or Elimu scholarships and they have no sponsors. Even as the mop up exercise continues to fast track 100 per cent transition, the schools have no finances to cater for the many cases,” said Mr Indimuli.
He went on: “The boarding schools are the most affected as it is where the students are brought. In first year, in case they are lucky to get sponsorship or not, they maybe in school but when in form two, it becomes difficult to have them in school as the sponsors normally forget them.”
Indimuli said there is need to be clear on who needs to be supported as in most instances, MPs while giving bursary will only go for top students whose parents are well off and forget deserving needy cases.
He said the lawmakers sometimes opt to give a flat rate of at least Sh5,000 to all bursary applicants for political expedience but in the following disbursements, such students are forgotten and end up dropping out of school.
“If you are an MP and you give bursary to a student, you must sustain that child until he clears his secondary education. They spread the money so thinly and in the long run, its impact is not felt on the ground,” said Indimuli.
He added: “An average child also requires support. Maybe the level of poverty where he comes could have contributed in him posting an average performance but if supported, they end up performing better in their secondary school education,”
Indimuli now proposes that schools should establish a kitty where well wishes can make donations to support such students.