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From 5am to 11pm, Nairobi pupils face the nightmare of torturous tuition

By James Wanzala | March 14th 2020


Pupils from school heading home along Manyanja Road, Nairobi. Some schools release pupils late in the night from tuitions contrary to Education ministry guidelines. [Samson Wire, Standard]

It is about 8pm along Manyanja Road in Umoja, Nairobi County, on a Friday evening. We find three pupils with bags on their backs walking home from school.

Why this late? They attend evening classes after games. They have to brave the usual evening traffic jam. Some walk, others jump into overloaded matatus. Some are offered lifts in private cars.

Arriving home late, they have to hurriedly eat, bathe and get back to the books they just closed an hour or so back. It is time for homework.

With all these, they end up going to bed at 11pm only to wake up at 5am to prepare for the same routine.

Their schools, in Eastlands, insist that they must attend evening prep like their classmates who are boarders.

In one school, evening prep begins at 6.30pm and ends at 8.30pm when the day scholars are allowed to go home as their peers retire to bed for the night.

Such is the kind of suffering some of pupils in Nairobi and other parts of the country go through.

“For two years now, I have had to get used to my child coming home late because of evening classes. Since I do not want to admit him to a boarding school, I have had to bear with the pain of him coming home as late as 8.30pm,” said a parent from Umoja.

Every school day, Pauline Imali leaves her house at 8pm to go pick her son from school.

“On January 10, 2020 my son came home from school and told me the headteacher had announced that from Monday the following week, normal lessons would run until 8:30pm,” Ms Imali, who lives in Makueni, says.

The headteacher also declared that day scholars would not be dropped home by the school bus. Their parents would pick them up after 8:30pm as those who lived nearby walked home.

She says they had to comply with the school’s new policy, as do thousands of other parents across the country.

This happens even when there is a directive from the Ministry of Education stipulating school hours.

According to the Basic Education Act Regulations, 2015, all day public or private schools can only operate between Monday and Friday.

“From 8am to 3.30pm for class hours, 3.30pm to 4.45pm for co-curriculum activities. No day institution of basic education and training will require learners to report earlier than 7.15 am,” says the Act.

This means that pupils or students in boarding schools are supposed to proceed home from 4.45pm.

Unfortunately, many schools disregard this directive and are forcing their pupils, some in pre-primary- to report to school as early as 6am. Others require them, especially those in upper classes, to remain in school past 4.45pm.

These guidelines were to apply to both public and private schools. 

“Programmes should end by 4.45pm for all day schools. Any time beyond that is illegal. We have provided circulars and cautionary letters to boards of managements (BOMs). Some of the very parents are undermining this by colluding with teachers. We may now rope in the Ministry of Interior for enforcement,” Regional Director for Education Jared Obiero told Saturday Standard.

Private schools, according to our sources, are the biggest culprits.

Reached for comments, Kenya Private Schools Association Chief Executive Officer Peter Ndoro denied that their schools are flouting these directives.

“All our schools, 11,600 in total, adhere to this directive. If there are some ignoring this directive, there are a few isolated cases that I am not aware of. Most schools delay pupils because of co-curricular activities such as choir, drama or music practice but not evening classes. Nairobi traffic is one of the biggest issues making children get home late,” Mr Ndoro says. National Parents Association Vice Chairperson Sarah Kithinji said although the withholding of pupils or students till late is wrong, parents are to blame for allowing the school to keep their children as they are also busy elsewhere.

“It should be stopped and parents should make arrangements so that their children get home early. Some parents, especially those who do not have househelps, organise for their children remain in school till late,” Ms Kithinji says.

Health experts say that getting home late denies children enough sleep and interferes with their growth and development.

Last year, Tessa Mkutu, a medical practitioner in Nairobi, warned of the dangers of denying children enough sleep. 

“I am concerned enough to make a noise about a very simple issue…sleep. I attended to a fatigued 13-year-old girl. We ran some basic tests, but the main problem was that she wakes up at 4.30am to get to school by 6.30am, gets home at 7pm, does homework until 9pm then goes to sleep,” Dr Mkutu wrote in a local daily.

According to the US National Sleep Foundation (NSF) guidelines, a school-going child aged between six and 13 needs nine to 11 hours of sleep. A teenager aged between 14 to 17 needs eight to 10 hours. 

Yesterday, the world marked the World Sleep Day.

With the theme ‘Better Sleep, Better Life, Better Planet’, the day is for highlighting the importance of sleep as a pillar of health, allowing for better decision-making and cognitive understanding.

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