Fees shocker awaits parents as schools yet to get funding

Flooded Lake Baringo Secondary School caused by the rising waters of Lake Baringo. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Parents are not ready to pay fees when schools reopen on Monday, saying they are still smarting from adverse effects of coronavirus that led to job losses and huge a dip in income.

Some parents, who spoke yesterday, said the communication by Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha to reopen schools was abrupt, catching most of them off-guard, with little time to plan for fees.

With only three days left to reopening of schools for Grade Four, Standard Eight and Form Four, the parents now want the government to bail them out with a promise that they start paying fees in January next year.

“Most parents will start by purchasing school uniforms because most learners may not fit having gained weight during the long holiday,” said a parent at a Nairobi school.

Prof Magoha yesterday said learners with fee arrears should be allowed to continue with their education without any interruptions.

But teachers also expressed concerns over inadequate preparations ahead of reopening, citing delay in release of capitation funds.

It was also not clear whether the new 600,000 desks, chairs and lockers would be ready in time for use in the selected schools as they reopen on Monday.

In boarding schools, heads said they have not made adequate arrangements to expand accommodation facilities, three days to resumption of learning.

Concerns were also raised over quality of facemasks that would be used by learners, with parents complaining there is no proper coordination to ensure uniformity of supplies of the protective gear to schools.

“We are pleading with the government to ensure uniform facemasks are made available for parents to buy. They must be of good quality, reusable and affordable,” said Nicholas Maiyo, National Parents Association chairman.

“If we do not get the right qualities, children will be exposed to the virus as parents will be buying any facemasks in the flooded markets,” said Maiyo.

On desks, Magoha has directed all county directors of education to ensure the desks, lockers and chairs are made and delivered to schools by October 19.

This is about the time the rest of the learners are expected to start face-to-face learning in schools.

These are some of the issues that cropped up yesterday as parents, learners and teachers counted days to resumption of learning for Grade Four, Standard Eight and Form Four.

Magoha said Sh13 billion capitation funds to support free learning initiative has already been released to schools. He directed principals to allow students without fees, to learn.

Kenya Secondary School Heads Association (Kessha) and the Kenya Primary School Heads Association (Kepsa) officials said they were yet to receive any money from government even as ministry officials said it had been sent.

“I have been speaking to principals today and none of them has received any money in their accounts,” said Kessha chairman Kahi Indimuli.

He said meeting the Covid-19 protocols of social distancing, hand-washing, use of sanitisers and thermo guns will be a tall order, as schools remain cash-strapped.

Fears also emerged that with no funds to schools, parents may shoulder the coronavirus burden, as school managements would pass the costs to them.

The ministry, in one of the guidelines, advised school managers to use tents and dining halls to create additional boarding facilities.

The ministry also advised that learning would take place outside classrooms or under trees to address social distancing challenges.

“Who will buy the thermo guns? Who will install hand-washing points? Who will buy masks? And who will ensure space, even if temporary, will be created for social distancing?” asked a principal of a national school.

The biggest elephant in the room, however, is school fees. The government caters for day secondary schools fees with parents only paying lunch fees.

For boarding schools, the government pays Sh22,244 per child per year in all secondary schools. Boarding school fees range between Sh40,000 and Sh53,000.

“We plead with the ministry to issue clear fees guidelines because I foresee a problem when schools open. It is a delicate balance for the sake of the child,” said Indimuli.

He said even before the Covid-19 pandemic, school finances were already stretched, with most institutions running into debts.

In a report they released in June last year, secondary school heads listed high remuneration costs and expenses of sustaining additional teaching and support staff as some of the factors that push up cost of running schools.

They also listed high cost of utilities such as electricity, water, sewerage and maintenance, coupled with inadequate teaching staff and learning equipment.

The report reveals that the average annual income of each school had effectively decreased, from an average Sh5 million (sub-county schools) and Sh42 million (national schools) in 2016, to Sh9 million and Sh51 million, respectively, in 2017.

In 2018, the figure was an average Sh9 million and Sh38 million, respectively.

“An analysis of the income and expenditure shows that over the three years, schools have on average registered a deficit of 11 per cent in their cost of operation,” reads the report.

With the new resource requirements occasioned by Covid-19, heads said more must be done to support schools.

“We know there is a serious funding challenges and we hope the government will address them as we move along,” said Indimuli.

Maiyo cautioned schools heads against hiking fees, saying parents should not be burdened.