Harsh laws needed to protect parents from thieving school heads

A parent carries a box while escorting her daughter to school. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

It is almost three weeks since schools opened for the first term, and the cries of parents are yet to fade away. Parents whose cries are still louder are those whose children started joining Form 1 one and a half weeks ago.

The painful wailings of both categories of parents will linger in the air for months, or even years, as the jingle of coins in their pockets keep dying down.

Every now and then, they will have to dig deeper into their pockets, to fund their children’s education and still, have to make ends meet with dwindling resources.

A lot has been said about Kenya’s system of education. A lot continues to be said, and many questions asked even by those who went through it and are thriving.

Some people question its quality, while others defend it and swear they became what they are even after going through the system.

While people disagree on its quality, they all agree that it is expensive and is hurting the poor and the marginalised because they cannot afford to educate their children and improve their status in society.

That should not happen in a country which has ratified international treaties that protect the right to education and in whose Constitution that right is enshrined in not one, but three articles.

Added to that, there are laws such as the Basic Education Act and the Children’s Act that acknowledge and protect children's right to education.

There are several factors that hinder the education of children from certain communities, and most, if not all are related to cost even as the government keeps saying that the cost of education has been reduced to cushion parents and ensure that more children are in school.

While the government argues that it has equipped schools with enough learning material, and that no child of school-going age and ability should be left behind, many parents still fall short because they cannot raise what some schools demand.

They cry and plead every year that some of the things schools require are unnecessary, and unnecessarily costly, but their cries fall on deaf ears.

These cries are louder at the beginning of every academic calendar as it was witnessed three weeks ago, and are still being heard as Form Ones continue reporting to school.

There are children who are yet to report because their parents are still raising funds to meet the schools’ requirements despite the Education ministry’s assertions that institutions should not turn learners away.

Some will report in second term while others will not report at all, and in between, those who reported will drop out because they will not afford tuition fee and some of these items that schools want from them.

There is also the issue of sending parents to specific shops, and the argument is that if the items, mostly uniforms, are bought elsewhere, they could be of different shade, thus, only those specific shops stock the exact colours and fabric.

Also, there are schools that sell the uniforms and bedding, and insist parents buy from them, at prices which are above market rates.

All these rules restrict parents from seeking items in stores with lower prices, or even buying the fabric and having tailors make uniforms for their children.

It has been said that the school heads work in cahoots with traders to fleece parents and that is why they insist on items being acquired from specific stores because they will get kickbacks.

Sadly, there are parents who work with the school heads and principals — they are the suppliers of these items, and gain from all the thievery but are only too glad because they are getting a ready market.

Ideally, the problem does not lie without. It lies within. In is a fact that Kenyans are inherently corrupt and can never pass an opportunity to fleece compatriots as they cry government offices are dens of corruption and that politicians continuously steal from the public.

Whatever happens in the schools is not news and neither is it a secret. The Education ministry is aware of those shenanigans, considering that some of the education officers were once teachers and they came up with such rules or were in schools where they were in force.

The Education ministry can bring to an end this madness that makes parents suffer and even die while trying to educate their children, but it seems it is not interested in pushing for harsh penalties upon school administrators who fleece parents.

When parents complain, the most the ministry does is tell school heads not to force parents to buy extra items. But the administrators always defend their positions, and give excuses why the items are needed.

And so, every term, the ministry barks at the school heads, who scoff at the warnings. They have known that the ministry cannot bite, thus they continue burdening parents with extra costs in a country where economic growth and better standards of living exist only in documents from the government.