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Parents skeptical as back to school off to a slow start

 Geoffrey Mwaura (left) a Grade 4 Pupil with his sister Esther Njeri a Form 4 student are assisted to fit in shoes (Photo: Kipsang Joseph,Standard)

The bus stages were empty. Transport companies that set aside vehicles to transport students had to release them for regular passengers when by midday yesterday they had not filled even a single bus.

“Maybe parents are worried about putting so many children in public transport so they are using private means. By now, we would have gotten students travelling a long distance to start filling the buses,” said Peterson Omwenga, who manages buses at Machakos country bus station in Nairobi.

Stationery shops that had opened with hopes of cashing in on the last-minute rush of parents stocking up for Grade Four, Class Eight and Form Four candidates recorded low sales.

“Since morning, I have only gotten two customers,” said Maina Mumo, who operates a stationery shop downtown.

Several traders who stock learning materials said they have not recorded a significant increase in sales.

In Nyanza, unlike the past where supermarkets and bookshops would be crowded with parents shopping for their children, the situation was different yesterday with only a handful of shoppers.

Not prepared

A spot check along the streets of Kisumu, Migori and Kisii established that the purchase of school items was low. At the Kisumu Boys roundabout where second hand book sellers always attract parents, traders said business was poor.

Josephat Opiyo, who has been selling books in the streets in Kisumu for 15 years told The Standard he had only sold two text books by noon yesterday.

“When the government announced that schools will be reopened, I was hoping that I will be able to sell books. However, this is not the case because parents are not buying books,” said Opiyo.

The transport sector, which reaps big when schools open, has not witnessed an upsurge in the number of travellers. There were few learners at the Kisumu Bus Park.

Bob Mwadega, a parent who was escorting his daughter who studies in Nairobi, said most parents were not prepared for the reopening of schools.

“Covid-19 shook parents and most of them are struggling to make ends meet; it is not easy for them to go shopping for their children like in the past,” said Mwadega.

In Gusii, school managers notified parents through text messages of plans to reopen.

At Kereri Girls, the principal, Terresa Atieno, said they were expecting to receive the 431 KCSE candidates latest 3pm today. “We achieved most of the requirements that had been set by the government. Demarcation has been done and we expect strict adherence to the Ministry of Health protocols,” she said.

Nyabururu Girls National School is expecting 413 candidates to resume classes on Tuesday.

School principal Joyce Orioki told The Standard teachers will be available to offer support to the candidates.

“We have held meetings within the school and we expect that students will have a wonderful stay within the compound,” she said.

In Eldoret, things were different. Parents jammed supermarkets and other stores within the town to shop for their children. Most shoes stores that normally don’t operate on Sundays were open.

Sanitisers and masks were some of the most sought items.

“I received a text message from my school directing that we clear first term fees arrears and pay the second term fees as per the normal guidelines. I was also instructed to buy five reusable masks and 500ml hand sanitiser,” said Fredrick Yego, a parent.

Yego admitted that most parents are facing financial challenges and urged the government to consider distributing hand sanitisers to schools as earlier promised.

Another parent, Janet Kurui, said she was forced to buy uniform for her son who is in Grade 4 after he outgrew the one he had.

“We urge schools to be considerate and not frustrate parents who still have fees arrears since most of us lack finances at the moment. We have been forced to add additional items by our schools,” said Kurui.

Gilbert Kiplimo, another parent, said October is a low season for parents who rely on proceeds from farms to pay school fees for their children.

“Majority of parents rely on proceeds from the sale of maize to clear their children’s school fees and other needs. There are no resources at the moment since most of them have not started harvesting maize,” said Kiplimo.

A spot check in Eldoret revealed that parents were purchasing uniforms at various outlets. Traders who deal with branding did roaring business after schools instructed parents to ensure masks purchased for students were branded with their respective admission numbers.

Abdul Mohammed charges between Sh20 and Sh30 to brand masks, socks, shirts, blouses, skirts and T-shirts among others, while marking shoes costs Sh100 per pair.

In Mombasa, Francis Juma whose daughter studies in Taita Taveta County, said he had resorted to buying secondhand books as he could not afford new ones.

“I am out of work after being laid off due to the effects of Covid-19 and when Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha made the announcement for phased reopening, I had to look for school items. It is not easy at all. I have used more than Sh4, 000 on school equipment and am yet to pay fees for this new term,” Juma said.

Some parents expressed fears over the safety of their children due to Covid-19. Alice Wangombe said she was not sure about the level of preparedness by schools to host a large number of students. 

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