As schools reopen this week, many head teachers are worried how they are going to feed learners thanks to the high cost of living, which has pushed prices through the roof.
Some principals are under pressure from suppliers who are demanding cash payments before delivery of goods and services.
The principals are in a dilemma how they will maintain traditional diets on shoestring budgets having been warned by the Ministry of Education against hiking school fees.
“We are no longer receiving key supplies like foodstuffs and other essentials because of pending bills and huge debts we owe our suppliers,” said a school principal from Rift Valley who sought anonymity fearing victimisation by superiors.
Backed into a corner, principals are demanding to be allowed to increase fees to be able to afford the high food prices.
The ministry removed extra levies in the fees structure, a directive that has left many schools, especially boarding ones, struggling to remain afloat.
“The capitation money cannot supplement the cost that goes to boarding facilities and the food. The ministry should consider allowing schools to charge a little bit more fees to enable us manage the crisis,” added the principal.
He complained that parents on the hand are not being fair by insisting that school managers wait for disbursement of the Constituency Development Funds when in reality, politicians have gone into campaigns, ignoring education.
According to the principal, prices of most foodstuffs have doubled owing to inflation. For instance, the school had budgeted a maximum of Sh3,800 for a bag of maize but the market price has shot up to Sh6,500.
“The ministry lowered the termly school fees but nobody took into consideration the prices of food items. The prices of sugar, rice and other items have all gone up. Where do we get the extra money?” he posed.
Further, the principal protested the directive by Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha that head teachers should not to send away learners over fee arrears.
The government reduced the school fees from Sh54,000 to Sh45,000 for national schools, and Sh35,000 for other schools to cushion parents from the effects Covid-19.
“Parents are taking advantage of the directive not to pay fees because they know you cannot send a child away for fees, but what will the child eat in school? Parents should be considerate and clear their fees because the suppliers are insisting for full payments,” said the principal.
However, parents too are bearing the brunt of the hard economic times and a condensed school calendar that is not giving them breathing space to look for school fees
According to principals who spoke to The Standard, they might be forced to change students’ menu.
“The consequence of that idea to change the menu is that it will not go well with the students because they do not understand what is going on. It will be difficult to convince them to eat ugali on a day they are supposed to eat rice,” explained a principal.
The ongoing financial crisis in schools is worsened by failure by the government to submit all the capitation money for the students.
The ministry capped the capitation fee at Sh22,244 per student with some school heads complaining over delayed payment of the money for the previous academic year.
“The fees have remained constant and parents are not paying because of the current economic challenges. The schools have incurred a lot of debts because the money given cannot match the school budgets,” said another principal of a girls’ school in the Central region.
According to the principal, some Sh4,000 for capitation is yet to be disbursed to schools.
“We were told not to send students home because the government has paid tuition but children cannot learn without eating. If something is not done there may a lot of repercussions,” said the principal.
She noted that the school has planned to hold sessions with students to convince them to adjust to any changes in the menu noting hat such last resort changes might trigger school unrest and strikes.
“We shall be eating what is available but we must make them understand,” she added.
Meanwhile, the chairperson of the Kenya Secondary’s Heads Associations Indimuli Kahi urged the government to review the capitation from Sh22,244 to Sh30,000 for each student, noting that the fees subsidies and the fees paid by parents are not enough to keep learners in school.