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Is fee charged by Kenyan private schools worth it?

OPINION
By Tania Ngima | January 12th 2016

We used to say that you can’t go wrong with investment in food. And then we got the real estate boom and everyone who had money to spare invested it in land and housing.

I have a tip for anyone who’s looking for a long-term investment; Invest in a school.

If you witnessed the distress of parents trying to get their children into private schools over the past week, then you will understand where I’m coming from.

On Wednesday, my friend sent me a photo of a waiting room that had benches full of parents. In fact, it closely resembled the waiting room of a hospital during the flu season when every second child has leaking noses and wracking coughs save for the absence of brightly strewn toys and playing children.

Her next message allayed my confusion. She was in the waiting room of one of five schools she had zeroed in while trying to get admission for her four- year-old child.

She also had siblings in two of her other top choices across town also waiting in line to find out the possibility of her child’s admission.

Before the end of 2015, she had taken a couple of days off, on friend’s and family’s recommendations, to visit about 11 schools and zero in on those that would be a good fit for her child.

Most had asked her to come back at the beginning of the year and find out if there were any slots available from other students who were not going to report.

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She also did what any diligent parent would do, and carried the fees schedules to look at in her own time. When I looked at these I burst into hysterical laughter. Was there some fine print on these documents offering a small apartment as a bonus for paying copious amounts of money in fees? It’s inconceivable that this is what I could be dealing with in a couple of years’ time; annual fees for an under five-year-old that were higher than public university fees?

In addition to the tuition expenses, the transportation costs are preposterous. Maybe, I thought, they were hiring private planes to whisk children to school in comfort and avoid Nairobi traffic.

But we all know that most children still have to wake up at the crack of dawn and undertake sightseeing expeditions into random estates to pick other children, woe unto you if you happen to live far from the school of choice.

It is no wonder then that where you live may be determined by where your children go to school so that you can save yourself some costs by organising alternative means of transport for your kids in a bid to retain some financial sanity.

And even with private schools charging the price of a small house on fees, places are still in such high demand that you could spend days searching before you find an ideal school.

I’m sure I will discover this in the next few years, but I cannot help but wonder what the scramble for expensive primary private schools is driven by. Is the state of free primary education that deplorable or have we demonised public schools to the point that they are not a viable option anymore?

Or have we fallen prey to a middle class emotional affliction that leads to an obsession with giving our children as perfect a start as possible lest we stand in between them and their future success?

At four years old, I cannot remember what I was spending my days doing but I certainly wasn’t in school.

The first time I stepped into a classroom was when I turned five, to prepare me for the Standard One intake at seven years old.

I am proud to say I went through the public system for my primary education, and in retrospect it was an enlightening experience.

When I was in my second year of primary school, my mother decided she was going to get me into a primary school that was renowned for its high performances.

So she set out to see the headmistress, much like a lot of the parents this past Wednesday, and declared that until she was given a hearing she wasn’t going to leave the reception.

Long story short, I was accepted into the school and proceeded to spend a torturous six years there. When I recall this experience I would think twice before I subject my children to the rigour and strain of living a completely academically driven life with no hope of having a well-rounded childhood.

And this might drive me to venturing into the private realm where there is a chance that my offspring will have a chance at developing some innate talent aside from academics.

In as much as I hope that the decision to ‘get only the very best for my child’ will be influenced more by common sense and less by an emotional response, I have a feeling the latter will win the day.

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