Private colleges, schools oppose Magoha move on closure of institutions

Private colleges and schools have criticised the move by government to suspend learning in all institutions until January next year.

The private education players feel the decision will force many of them to close shop and default in paying many loans which they have been serving with financial institutions.

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha on Thursday, after meeting with education stakeholders who form the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) education emergency task force, announced that all Teacher Training Colleges (TTCs), Technical Vocational Education Training (Tvet) and universities will reopen for face-to-face sessions in January, next year.

Little compliance

“A survey of all TTCs, universities and Tvet institutions has shown that few of them have put in place necessary measures in compliance with the Ministry of Health’s Covid-19 guidelines. This is why they can’t be reopened next month as earlier anticipated,” Magoha said.

But private institutions are crying foul, stating that though they are part of the Dr Sarah Ruto-led emergency committee, their views were not considered.

The Kenya National Private Colleges (Kenapco) said the decision to open colleges in January will cost them dearly.

“We have thousands of tutors teaching 260,000 students in private Tvetss. A total of 217 of our institutions have been closed since March when all learning institutions were closed. The colleges’ owners and teachers have no cash. They depend on fees to survive,” says Ekrah Ndung’u, Kenapco secretary general, adding that their members are likely to die of hunger than Covid-19.

She regretted that most of their members can’t pay rent for their premises and can’t go to banks for loans to pay the same.

“This decision did not factor in our members. We have applied for loans to comply with MoH protocols on managing Covid-19. We should be allowed to have a phased reopening where we have those who are willing to sit exams do so,” Ms Ndung’u said.

She said it is bad for the country’s economy when decisions are made without factoring in innovative ways of making sure investors remain active to protect the fast fading jobs.

“When learning institutions were closed on March 16, some of our students were sitting Kenya National Examination Council exams. It makes sense to allow them and other finalists finish writing the tests. Covid-19 will be with us for some time,” she said, adding that many of their colleges have capacity for thousands of students and it won’t be a problem for them to open for specific cadres.

Mutheu Kasanga, education sector board chairperson of Kenya Private Sector Alliance, said private education sector players depend solely on fees and the decision to suspend learning until next year is punitive.

“Public universities and colleges rely on capitation from government. Private colleges rely on fees by students. We need to leapfrog the education sector and think of innovative ways of engaging our youth during this pandemic,” she said.

Some primary and secondary private schools have already shut down and their proprietors are worried that the year-long closure might not allow them to resume learning come January.

A number of teachers have committed suicide for being unable to pay rent and provide for their families.

Helpless situation

Kenya Private Schools Association chairman Peter Ndoro said the situation is dire and his members are now helpless.

“We employ about 150,000 teachers who have not been paid for months now. We agree with the government on its stand of protecting our children but it should also look at ways of helping us navigate through this pandemic,” Mr Ndoro said.

Magoha said a robust multi-sectoral approach will be employed to step up preparedness for reopening universities and colleges in January in compliance with Ministry of Health protocols on mitigating the Covid-19 effects.

-The writer is a 2019/2020 Bertha Fellow