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Toughest school year for parents and learners as cost of supplies up

Public Service Vehicles operators made a killing after increasing fares to cash in on the students travelling. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

It is hell. This is how cash-strapped parents have described their preparations for the re-opening of schools this week.

The parents have lamented of tough times as schools open for the third term, which was delayed last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic that affected the academic calendar.

Those who spoke to The Standard said they did not have enough time - and money - to prepare for the reopening.

This happened even as the government was urged to actualise its pledge to release capitation funds on time.

Schools started reopening yesterday after the short Christmas and New Year break.

Public Service Vehicles operators made a killing after increasing fares to cash in on the students travelling to different parts of the country.

Ruth Ayodi, a mother of two from Nakuru, whose son is in Form Four, said he didn’t even have time to finish his homework because the holiday was too short.

“We have arrears of about Sh20,000 and we are forced to beg teachers to allow children to study,” she said. ‘’My daughter has a balance of Sh9,000 and this term we are to pay Sh11,000. Books are needed. We are being rushed.’’

Jackson Oketch, a father of four, was also on edge. Oketch was worried that the year will be a busy one with four terms, in addition to elections and other activities.

“It is a burden to handle the 2022 calendar especially for parents; we need fees, books, uniforms and shopping for our children,” he said. 

Meanwhile, in Kericho County, the reopening has left principals of boarding schools grappling with how to feed students following an increase in maize prices.

The National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) currently buys a 90kg of maize bag at Sh3,000, giving schools stiff competition for the popular food crop.

Kericho High School principal Daniel Chelule said the amount is what they have been enticing farmers with when NCPD price was Sh2,700 for a 90kg bag.

“Our suppliers might prefer to sell their maize to NCPB due to prompt payment while schools have to wait for parents to pay schools fees,” he said.

NCPB currently buys a 90kg of maize bag at Sh3,000, giving schools stiff competition. [Harun Wathari, Standard]

In Mombasa, Ms Mary Evans, a mother of five, said she had had to stagger the purchasing of textbooks and school apparatus for her children because she cannot afford to buy them all at once.

‘’It is hell for me. I have quite a huge task to cater for my children’s education. The added school terms are proving a huge task for us parents,” she said.

At the Mwembe Tayari bus station, parents and students complained about bus fare, saying it had been increased by 100 percent.

Stanley Muindi said fare from Mombasa to western Kenya had skyrocketed from Sh2,000 to Sh4,000 per person.

“My son is in Maseno School. I’m shocked that the fare has been doubled,” he said.

Scores of parents interviewed by The Standard said they were worried on how they would manage to pay fees and buy an assortment of equipment needed in schools, owing to reduced earnings occasioned by the effects of Covid-19.

Benard Imbuga, a parent with a student attending Dr Aggrey High School in Taita Taveta, said he was pressed financially as he had two other school-going children to cater for.

At Rescue Bookshop in Mwembe Tayari, proprietor Felix Aluoch said very few clients were turning up to buy school merchandise.

“It is a continuation term. Unlike in March when we expect a transition term, business is low. Parents are coming to complain of a depressed economy,” Aluoch said.

The story was similar in several other bookshops which recorded depressed business this time around.

It was not all doom and gloom, however. Mvita Constituency Development Fund (CDF) chairman Omar Shariff said they have prepared well for the new term with a number of schools having been renovated using the CDF kitty and money from donors. Three other primary schools within Tononoka ward of Mvita constituency - Central Girls, Kikowani and Mbheeni schools - also had facelifts courtesy of the Mvita CDF kitty.

In western Kenya, Vihiga governor Wilbur Ottichilo flagged off 347 students enrolled under the governors’ scholarship initiative.

 Parents have lamented of tough times; high cost of books and uniforms. [File, Standard]

The students were given full school fees and personal effects to help them concentrate on learning.

Speaking at Mbale High School during the flagging off of beneficiaries, Ottichilo said beneficiaries who fail to perform well could be dropped from the programme to pave way for a new set of beneficiaries.

Elsewhere, long queues and crowded banking halls were witnessed in Vihiga and Kakamega counties yesterday as parents made a last-minute dash to pay school fees for their children.

Parents interviewed said they had been compelled to pay whatever little they had, hoping school managers will understand the situation.

Moses Shivachi said that even though the third term school fees was less compared to what he paid in the last two terms, he was struggling to raise the required amount.

“We have had a congested year which saw us save less due to hard economic times, raising the Sh5,000 fees is not easy given the fact that I must foot other expenses,” he said.

Carolyne Shikutwa said she arrived at KCB in Kakamega town early but found a queue already forming.

“I have been waiting for my turn to be served although I have barely half the amount of fees,” she said.

Some schools in Vihiga saw just a handful of students reporting yesterday. Most public schools opened yesterday but majority are set to resume learning tomorrow.

Meanwhile, matatu operators plying the Kitale-Eldoret route took advantage of a high number of passengers to raise fare to cash in as learners reported back to school. They charged between Sh400 and Sh500 up from the normal rate of Sh250. Those travelling from Kitale to Bungoma were charged Sh600, up from the normal fare of Sh400.

“It is unfortunate that some people have taken advantage of a situation to exploit us,” lamented Jane Simiyu.

There was a long queue at Kangaroo shuttle offices in Kitale as travelers, especially students returning to school, struggled for space in the few matatus available.

The transport company had not increased fare and was charging Sh300 from Kitale to Eldoret.

In Nandi, Paul Rotich, the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) Secretary, said institutions are in dire need of resources as learners report back after a two-week’s break.

“Schools are reopening amid an increase in Covid 19 positivity rate in the country. There is fear of continued infections and our concern is that the government should facilitate schools to ensue enhanced hygiene and observance of protocols to reduce the disease risks,” he said.

Last week, Education Cabinet Secretary (CS) Prof George Magoha assured school heads that the government will release funds for schools immediately the third term commences.

Education Cabinet Secretary (CS) Prof George Magoha. [File, Standard]

In Eldoret, a spot check in book stores and school uniform shops recorded brisk business even as parents lamented high cost of living.

“I have managed to get a few items for my son despite financial constraints. I hope school management will allow him in as I struggle to get more items at a later date,” said David Kemboi.

Most parents spoke of economic challenges to meet education needs of their children.

And a teacher, Bethuel Too, lamented about shortage of chalks, which has escalated prices with a carton of the commodity selling at Sh10,000.

“We don’t know how we shall raise more funds to buy chalk that will sustain us to the end of third term,” he said.

Ankeet Shah, a director at Shanir Wool shop, attributed the shortage to high cost of importation.

At the matatu terminus in Murang’a, demand for transport services saw fares raised to Sh300 up from the normal Sh200 on some of the major routes.

Alice Mugure said it was sad for the matatu crew to increase fares, thus affecting the resumption of learners back to their schools. But matatu crew said the increase was justified as usually happens during closing and opening of schools.

Peter Njoroge urged the government to consider the introduction of regular train services in Mt Kenya region to save the parents from incurring high costs.

Retail stores selling school supplies recorded low business with shoppers complaining about the high prices.

[Daniel Chege, Nikko Tanui, Brian Kisanji, Osinde Obare, Philip Mwakio, Titus Too, Christopher Kipsang, Gideon Kangogo, Edward Kossut, Boniface Gikandi and Nderitu Gichure]