Pressure is mounting on Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha to crush the school uniforms cartels that are thriving in public schools.
Sector stakeholders have complained that the costs of uniform are locking out thousands of students from education and turning into a real hurdle in the Education ministry’s push for 100 per cent transition from primary to secondary school.
Some of the items listed in schools as part of the uniform have raised questions, as some prices are unduly exaggerated. Further, the number of various items, such as trousers, skirts, shorts and blouses, required are in some cases too high.
Another red flag has been raised around the requirement that parents buy some items from specific suppliers.
An analysis carried out by The Standard across various schools found that the cost of uniforms ranges between Sh9,000 for day schools and Sh20,000 for boarding schools.
Yet, a complete set of the same items could cost nearly half as much if parents were allowed to buy them from alternative sources rather than from a pre-approved list of suppliers.
In one of the schools, parents are required to buy three trousers at a total cost of Sh2,610, which means that one trouser goes for about Sh870.
Parents in the school who were interviewed said the same trouser would retail at Sh300 if bought from other sources in the open market.
In the same school, parents are required to buy three short-sleeved shirts at a cost of Sh530 each – similar shirts retail at Sh200 in the open market, parents said.
Other items listed include an executive blazer, physical education kits and school T-shirts, all at Sh3,700.
In addition to these, parents are expected to buy a pullover with a logo, another sleeveless second pullover (called a windbreaker), two black neckties, and three pairs of socks.
“The above uniform should be bought in cash from the supplier(s) who will be selling them at the school during the admission period,” reads the admission letter.
Another parent whose child has just joined a school in Nairobi was asked to buy a ball at Sh4,700 from the institution. The parents were asked to pay for the ball through a bankers cheque addressed to a specific company.
“The school will be admitting more than 200 Form Ones. Where will all the balls go?” the parent protested.
The school also asked all the Form One students to buy swimming kits, a lab coat, fleece jacket, cotton pyjamas, gumboots, working gloves and a dressing gown, among other items.
These are besides several textbooks and Sh53,554 in tuition fees.
And in a girls’ school in Nairobi, under optional items, parents have been asked to buy panties at Sh1,000 each, against a market rate of Sh100. Students were required to come with six panties.
In another admission letters in our possession, a principal insists that parents buy items for use in boarding school from a supplier who would pitch camp at the institution.
“For uniformity, equality and self-esteem and well-being of students, equipment for boarding will be provided in school at a cost of Sh14,750. These include items like cup, spoon, plate, bedcover, pillow, mattress, blankets and bedsheets,” the letter said.
The school also requires parents to buy uniforms from only one specific supplier at a cost of Sh24,250.
In addition, students are required to report to school with white canvas shoes, low black leather shoes, pens and several textbooks.
National Parents Association Chairman Nicholas Maiyo yesterday said many children have been locked out of secondary school because of the high cost of a uniform.
“We have complained about being directed where to buy uniforms because just outside the schools in the open market, prices are cheaper,” he said.
In another school in Kiambu last week, a student from a poor family was asked to pay Sh22,000 – the only cash she had raised from well-wishers so she could join Form One – for uniform sold at the institution. She was then sent home to look for fees.
“The student had been sponsored by the Kisumu County Government. We wrote a letter to the school making a commitment to pay the fees within a few weeks, but the school was more interested in the purchase of the uniform,” said a guardian.
The Kiambu-based school, according to the letter seen by The Standard also wants students to buy a ‘freezer jacket’ and a woollen tracksuit at a cost of Sh4,000 from a specific supplier.
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The school also insisted on a mackintosh for bed-wetters and a white dust coat.
In another school in Kisumu, teachers themselves were selling uniforms, especially blazers.
“There were some teachers strategically positioned in the compound who were secretly selling school uniforms. They claimed they were offering them at subsidised prices,” said a parent.
Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) Secretary-General Akello Misori poked holes in the school uniforms policy being implemented by the government.
“The uniforms policy is outdated. Why do we insist we must have uniforms? It does not add value to learning. But the Education Ministry has prescribed it so there are attendant costs,” said Mr Misori.
Principals in public secondary schools familiar with the lucrative uniforms business told The Standard that this could be Ministry of Education’s biggest headache.
“With the perennial hiking of school fees contained, the next hurdle for the ministry is cracking the deep uniforms cartel, because some of the suppliers are principals themselves,” said the principal of a national school.
When sought for comment on the matter, Prof Magoha said: “I will issue a statement in due course.”
Some of the common items required by schools outside of the uniform include scarves, leg warmers, expensive swimming costumes and costly fleece jackets.
A memo in one of the country’s top school uniform dealers lists mind-boggling prices for some of these items. A fleece jacket costs Sh3,350, while one shirt costs Sh1,250.
A trouser retails at Sh1,450, a blouse at Sh700, T-shirts at Sh600, a tracksuit at Sh2,750, a pullover at Sh1,500 and a pair of socks at Sh200.
A swimming cap costs Sh550, bedsheets are sold at Sh875, a towel at Sh1,000, a nightdress at Sh1,200, and a necktie at Sh280.
Basic calculations by The Standard based on market rates reveal that on average, a shirt would cost about Sh200, trousers Sh400, pullover Sh800, socks and neckties cost about Sh100 each, while leather shoes retail at Sh800 and rubber shoes at Sh300.
Last year, the Ministry of Education directed schools not to refer parents to particular uniform shops to prevent collusion with suppliers.
A report by Haki Elimu Kenya, an education think tank and lobby group, calls on President Uhuru Kenyatta to intervene.
“The president must now personally address the uniform question because it is undermining free day secondary education. Schools must drop some of the unnecessary items from the uniform list,” said Muthoni Ouko, the lobby’s director.
Mrs Ouko has also written to Magoha to implement the 2014 Kilemi Mwiria task force report on costs of education.
“CS Magoha must constitute a team to come up with national guidelines on schools uniforms or else many children will continue being locked out of free education,” she said.
Haki Elimu Kenya proposes that school uniforms drop logos as these end up pushing up costs.
“School uniform should only constitute footwear (shoes and socks), skirt/trouser, a pullover, a necktie and a games kit. Anything additional is unnecessary,” said Ouko.
She also wants the CS to abolish the many types of uniform demanded in schools, including mid-week and weekend wear.
“What is shocking is that after parents spend so much buying these items, they will be required to replace them in Form Three. This is madness,” said Ouko.
The Dr Mwiria report on costs of education recommended several measures, including limiting the components of school uniform to the essential elements. In addition to Ouko’s list of essentials, the report had a sun hat, listed as key for learners with albinism.
If the contents of the report were implemented, the maximum cost of a uniform would be about Sh4,900.
“The cost could be lower depending on the region and school locality. Schools should not include non-essential components such as blazers as part of school uniform,” said the report.
The task force noted that many families in Kenya could not afford secondary school education as a result of “high direct and indirect costs that have a bearing on the fees charged”.
The government has increased capitation per child to Sh22,244, per year in all secondary schools to cater for full fees in day schools. Boarding schools are only allowed to charge between Sh40,000 and Sh53,000.
These new fees guidelines were a result of findings of a 25-member task force set up by then Education CS Jacob Kaimenyi. The team comprised parents’ representatives, teachers, school heads associations, publishers, churches and Education ministry officials.
This team also found that some students were dropping out of school because of escalated costs of fees, extra levies, uniforms, projects and hidden costs of education.
Additional reporting by John Oywa.