Admissions crisis as parents opt out of ‘costly’ academies

Monday, October 5th, 2020 00:00 |
Kenya Primary School Heads Association chairman Nicholas Gathemia. Photo/PD/FILE

Public schools are staring at a congestion crisis as parents from private institutions start flocking to the government-sponsored ones seeking transfer for children.

The spill over has been pushed either by adverse economic effects of Covid-19 or permanent closure of some private schools, with public schools now awaiting a government directive on way forward.

However, Kenya Primary School Heads Association (Kepsha) chairman Nicholas Gathemia said it is a parent’s discretion where to take their children to learn, private or public.

“Parents have the right to choose a school as long as there is a vacancy. It is also upon them to decide whether or not they can afford school fees in private schools or take them to public where learning is free,” Gathemia said.

He said it would be wrong to deny any student admission in public schools.

“One requires transfer forms so that the movement of a child can be seen.

As a head teacher, I only need to sign the form but again the government will give direction on the issue,” Gathemia explained.

There are fears this may cause further strain to the already populated and cash strained public schools that can hardly meet the health protocols for Covid-19 and some of the head teachers are a worried lot.

In Mombasa, for instance, a spot check  revealed quite a number of schools have received significant number of parents from private schools last week, who were enquiring about enrolment after the schools, which their children were in either shut or were converted for other uses.

Seeking to enrol

Kongowea Primary School head teacher Wilfrida Odongo said since the start of the week, the school has received more than 100 parents seeking to enrol their children in different classes for various reasons.

“We have been listing down their details including names, respective grades or classes and keeping the applications pending awaiting further directions because it will be impossible to enrol them as even the existing enrolment is already overwhelming.

For instance, we have a population of 1,670 pupils against 22 classes only,” explained Odongo.

For the school to operate optimally under the Covid-19 rules which require each class to operate with a maximum of between 20 and 25 children, Odongo said the school will require a total of 88 classes, which means they have a deficit of 66 classrooms.

“Considering the new applications coming in, it now means the demand for more classes will even be higher.

You see, we cannot turn the parents away because this is a public school and they have a right for access to quality education.

Good thing is we have space and put up tents for extra classes but we need the Government’s directive for guidance,” she told People Daily.

An almost similar situation was replicated at St Augustine’s Preparatory School in Tudor, with the head teacher Jane Mukoba saying parents flocked to the school seeking transfers for their children for the better part of last week.

“I have received more than 10 applications from private schools after they were converted into something else.

Others said they wanted to enrol their kids in public school because they can no longer afford private schools after losing their jobs,” explained Mukoba.

Against the congestion challenges, teachers envision that if the schools were to resume soon, most public schools could encounter crises of additional students from private schools. 

“We are however spending the better part of the day doing all that is necessary to bring children back to class.

Most teachers have been going through their work programs and organise their schedules and know where to pick from once schools reopen,” Mukoba said.

The head teachers are therefore calling on the government to assist schools to be back on their feet as fast as possible by deploying relevant bodies as public works to help in renovation of worn out areas after six months of neglect.

“Having stayed away for six months, the government was spot on to ask teachers to resume because we can now see problems that need to be fixed immediately.

Right now some water pipes and tanks are leaking and need quick repairs,” said Mukoba.

In Nakuru, congestion in most public learning institutions remains the biggest headache for school heads.

A spot check revealed that most institutions were already grappling to accommodate their current high number of students and with lack of adequate infrastructure the situation poses a threat. 

Before the pandemic most schools had been forced to convert dispensaries, laboratories, and libraries into classrooms and dormitories with education stakeholders lamenting hurried reopening will be catastrophic. 

Kenya Union of Post-Primary Teachers (Kuppet) Executive secretary Nakuru branch Eliud Wanjohi said the government failed to utilise the students’ stay at home to improve infrastructure.

“Learning institutions require more classrooms, dormitories, bathrooms, toilets, dining halls, desks, chairs, laboratories and teachers without this then reopening is just for show,” said Wanjohi. 

As at last week, most public schools in Nakuru had not received transfer requests from private.

Request for transfers

Rift Valley regional Director of Education John Ololtuaa noted that at the moment no requests for transfers had been received at their offices. 

According to him, most parents are waiting until schools formally reopen adding that all procedures must be met before approvals for transfers are made. 

“The only requests we received were before the pandemic and since then none has been made; however we are open for requests,” said Ololtuaa. 

St Xavier’s Primary School head teacher Anne Gikonyo said they were yet to receive requests for transfers.

She said most schools have to get data of their learners, which can be done when schools reopen officially before any decisions to admit new ones are made. 

“So far, no request has been made, we are working with relevant education stakeholders and if approvals are made then we will know whether to admit them,” said Gikonyo. 

At Nakuru Boys High School, the principal Mike Yator said parents will only be able to move once school’s officially open. 

He said they are busy preparing the institutions at the moment in anticipation of welcoming students back once the Ministry announces the dates. 

“There is no rush, however once schools reopen, we will see how to handle the situation,” said Yator. 

 In Homa Bay, Janeiro Academy Director Jim Akali said his institution has not received transfer requests so far.

However, Akali said several cases of learners seeking transfer from private to public schools could be encountered when the reopening dates are clear.

“At the moment no parent approached us requesting to transfer their children. But we expect such cases especially when the government announces schools reopening dates,” said Akali.

His sentiments were echoed by Kisumu Life Spring Academy director Dickson Otigo.

Otigo said with the ripple effects of the virus on the economy many parents who have their children in private institutions could prefer taking them to public schools.

Compiled by Reuben Mwambingu, Roy Lumbe, Mathew Ndung’u and Noven Owiti

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