By Mary Kamande
When he found a job in a different Nairobi neighbourhood Samuel Maina moved with his family to Kahawa Sukari Estate, as he did not wish to be separated from them.
The need to find a new school arose and soon began the search for a public primary school hoping the transfer formalities would be uneventful as primary schooling remained a free service.
But he was in for a rude shock. When he took the children to Kwa Ng’ethe Primary, he was asked to pay Sh4,300 for each of his three children.
Though the children were not denied admission, the parent could not understand why in the era of free primary education, he was required to pay the money yet the Government had made basic education compulsory and free for all.
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“I was told the money was meant for buying desks,” he told Education.
Not one to give up, Mr Maina would not take the explanations given by the school principal and it took the intervention of Ruiru DEO Roseline Litaba to prevent a conflict.
According to Litaba, parents are supposed to share costs with the Government for their children without a hitch.
“If he could bring a desk and not the money, the better,” said the DEO, after intervening to prevent the conflict between the parent and the teacher.
Asked to what extent primary and secondary school education is free, Thika West DEO J M Ndundu says the schooling is not free of any cost as some parents understand it.
He says the Government only caters for tuition and the other needs should be provided for by the parents. It is for this reason, he says, that at the launch of FPE in 2003, the Government also formulated a policy giving guidelines to parents’ obligation.
He says the amount allocated to each child in both primary and secondary schools is not enough to cater for all the child’s needs.
He says it is the parent’s responsibility to buy his children uniform and other personal effects, for instance.
According to the guideline, he says, parents are allowed to meet and agree on raising money to fund the building of infrastructure in schools among other needs that may arise.
“If parents agree to contribute a given amount for the school’s development kitty, then it would be in order for a new parent to be asked to contribute a similar amount as contributed by others,” he says.
He, however, adds that it would be wrong to send a child away from school for failure by a parent to pay the additional levy.
“The aim of FPE is to encourage retention of children in schools and completion of courses,” he says. He adds that schools in different places face unique situations that parents resolve to deal with in their own way.
Of parents being made to pay for their children’s private tuition, he says the Government only recommends remedial tuition, which should not be paid for. Despite the Government’s ban on paid for extra tuition, the DEO acknowledges that the directive largely goes unheeded.
He also notes that though it is the Government that should hire teachers, parents seek extra teachers to tackle shortage of teachers in their schools. He, however, cautions that employing teachers is not provided for in the Parental Obligation Circular, the guideline to parents’ responsibilities in the FPE and FSE programmes.
Seemingly, thus, it is these ambiguities which make parents, who are often ignorant of their responsibilities, run in conflict with school administrators as well as providing loopholes for cunning administrators to impose levies that parents may find hard to resist, often due to the fear of becoming subjects of ridicule if they object.