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Is demand for ream papers the biggest scandal in schools?


A section of parents admitting Form One students last week for the first time took to social media to complain of being extorted by school heads in which besides being required to pay full term tuition fee, the schools demanded of them to buy ream papers.

In their rants, the parents claimed that the biggest scandal in the education sector is the 'Ream Paper' given that if a student reports to school without ream papers, the school will still send him away, whether he or she has paid in full the tuition fee.

But this has been the trend for many years where students are required to buy ream papers every term.

A spot check by The Nairobian established that school heads have perfected the art so much so that when the students report to school, some of the ream papers are given to security guards who in turn sell them to unsuspecting and frustrated students and parents at the school's main gate at exorbitant prices.

"Being a civil servant, I asked my supervisor for half a day off to enable me to admit my daughter to one of the prestigious schools in Westlands constituency. I had met all the requirements but we were denied entry since we didn't have ream papers," said a parent.

She added: "I drove back to the city centre to get a bookshop to buy the ream papers and on coming back around 11 am with them, I was then told that my daughter was late for school ad that her space had been taken by another student who came early. I had to plead with the principal for an hour before they admitted my daughter."

 Parent admits son into school.

Mandatory purchase

She is not alone. In one of the bookshops at Ronald Ngala Street, Nairobi, there's a long queue of students in the company of their parents. They are purchasing textbooks, exercise books and school uniforms. "You have to buy for me two reams of papers to go with them to school. It's mandatory, failure to which I will be sent back home to bring them," one of the students is heard pleading with her mother.

She added: "If you we don't have money; we return one of the textbooks and buy the ream papers. I don't want humiliation when I go back to school without the papers. In fact, without them, I won't be allowed to go past the gate."

The parent obliges to the demands of her daughter and gets her the two ream papers at Sh700 each.

The face of the student brightens and then she thanks the mother for saving her from the embarrassment she would have faced in case she would have reported without the papers.

Arnold Ochieng, a parent in one of the leading national schools in Kiambu County, approaches them and shares frustrations his son went through after he reported back to school last year without the ream papers.

According to Ochieng, he had purchased everything for the son and escorted him to school but was shocked when they were blocked from accessing the school premises unless they had the papers.

"It was around 6 pm when we arrived at the school following an eight-hour drive from Homa Bay. The security guard after checking what my son was carrying, he asked me why I have not bought the ream papers for him," said Ochieng

He added: "I told the security guard to allow my son into the school on condition that I will bring them the following day. The guard was categorical that without the papers, I should go back home with my son."

Con game

Ochieng said the guard informed him that if he dares to allow his son to school, the principal will sack him.

But he gave him a quick fix - if he parts with Sh950, he get the ream papers from him. A ream paper goes for between Sh500 and Sh700 depending on the brand.

Ochieng said his son went with the guard to his office and came back with two ream papers and he paid him Sh1,900.

He said before he left, the guard sold at least 10 reams to other parents who had reported to school without them.

"This is a pure con game. Where do all these papers to the extent that majority of these schools float tenders for office stationery with huge amounts of money budgeted to buy ream papers," said a parent in one of the renowned extra-county schools in Vihiga County, who only gave her name as Adelaide.

According to Adelaide, schools attach more value to ream papers than textbooks and exercise books, adding that the government should consider putting a stop to the requirement that students must report with ream papers to school since it has turned into a cash cow.

"Take for example a school with 2,000 students each taking to school two sets of ream papers. This totals to 4,000 sets of ream papers. If each is purchased at Sh700, this means that parents would have spent at least Sh2.8 million buying ream papers," said Adelaide.

 Ream papers are a must-have for most schools.


But the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education (Kuppet) Chairman, Omboko Milemba, defended the school heads saying schools are underfunded and the only way for them to remain afloat is through cost sharing.

"Education is a public good for public consumption and it's supposed to be free and compulsory. However, the schools are underfunded, the reason parents contribute a small amount of money to purchase stationery (ream papers) and that should not be taken to be corruption," said Milemba

Milemba added: "The government should adequately fund the schools so as to avoid privatizing the education sector, if the trend is allowed to continue, then education will be a preserve for the rich and parents who cannot even have money to buy the ream papers will stay with their children at home,"

Milemba lamented that this week, they conducted a spot check in junior schools and discovered that the schools do not have teachers, ream papers, desks and student files, adding the only way out is adequate funding.

According to Stephen Barongo, western region education director, the government capitation that is normally sent to the schools is supposed to cater for consumables including ream papers, adding that as a ministry, they don't expect parents to be asked to buy ream papers for their students.

Barongo said when the government sends capitation to schools, the instructions are very clear on its usage and principals should stick to it, adding that school heads should not pester parents to buy ream papers and bring them to school at the start of a new term.

"We don't expect parents to buy ream papers unless in specific schools that have extra curriculum activities where the parents have unanimously agreed to the arrangement. That issue has not been brought to our attention and we don't expect it to happen," said Barongo in a phone interview.

Kakamega School Principal, Julius Mumbili, said that since 2010, capitation money per student has remained Sh2000, a decade later, saying with the high cost of living and runway inflation, it's not tenable to continue operating on the same budget yet the prices of stationeries have increased.

Dr Mumbili added that a ream paper used to cost Sh250 but it has skyrocketed to Sh700, translating to 64.29 percent increase, insisting that they are currently operating under a lean budget and therefore, the only way out is to cost share some of the expenses with parents.

"The school can decide to buy the ream papers and sell to the students but parents will turn and say we are minting money from them. That's why we decided that they buy the ream papers and bring to school," said Mumbili

He added: "That's an arrangement we normally have with parents because we do many tests in order to make students get used to exams. Big schools do many tests, the reason they have been posting exemplary results over the years but if they don't want that, schools can decide to stop the arrangement but that will be a disservice to the students."

According to the principal, if learners will stop being tested frequently, then their performance will drastically drop and that will spell doom to their future.

"We are living under difficult times but our clarion call as teachers is to prepare students to become better citizens after living schools. The only way out is to cost share with parents and no one should claim that when they buy reams, they are benefiting school heads,"

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