Parents buckle under back-to-school heavy financial burden

Wednesday, January 8th, 2020 00:00 |
Parents in the last-minute rush to buy school uniform at retail shop in Mombasa, at the weekend. Photo/PD/BONFACE MSANGI

It is back to school season! A happy and hectic time in equal measure. Children are progressing to the levels, eager to meet new teachers and see old friends. And many parents are excited for these milestones as well. 

But what’s less exciting is the money they’re expected to shell out for school supplies. 

And it’s not just books and pencils that parents need to worry about. Schools are demanding snacks, tissue paper, printing paper, glue sticks and even hand wipes.

The sheer volume of materials on some lists can be surprising. With the advent of the Competency-Based Curriculum, the cost of back-to-school is becoming unbearable for parents and questions are being asked whether schools are taking advantage of the new curriculum to exploit parents or if the tough economy is forcing parents to tighten their belt on school supplies.

“I have two children, and new school supplies for back to school for the two, who are joining Class Three has cost me Sh10,000, and that does not include exercise books and uniforms,” says a parent of Fountain of Grace Academy in Kahawa West.

“I don’t understand why a lower primary pupil needs a full ream of printing paper,” he adds.

The parent who asked for anonymity said there were a host of other requirements including rulers, a packet of Macaroni for art work, coloured straws , beads, stickers, three packets of food colour, 10 manila papers, two tissue rolls, pencils, rubbers, spring files, which he is supposed to buy for both children. 

Prohibited outlets

Beatrice Omenda’s son Carlos goes to a private school in Nairobi’s Donholm estate. She says that the list of things her son’s school needs costs over Sh6,000. And that does not include books for the new curriculum. 

She thinks schools take advantage of the fact that there are few vacancies and are using back to school time to extort from parents.

“Do not forget that that is not all, there are those other supplies that pop up in the course of the term such as threads, needles, cardboards, which cost money,” says the hair dresser, adding, “The school requires that we buy two school sweaters every year and one must purchase the items from the school because it must bear the school logo,” she rants. 

She says a sweater costs Sh1,300, whereas the same sweater without a logo goes for as low as Sh850 in shops.

But most schools cannot allow you to buy the items elsewhere, and if you have to buy outside the school, then it has to be at a shop directed by them.

Tricia Moraa, another parent absolutely thinks back to school expenses are outrageous. She says, “I had to borrow money from our chama so that I could get my children to school.”

Moraa says they were also asked to buy fleece jackets which are now widely replacing sweaters: they cost about Sh3,000 and can only be bought in the school.

On top of the school supplies, which she thinks is just an excuse to rip money off parents, Moraa, a single mother, says she still has to buy daily snacks, a basic requirement for the children to eat.

She remembers last year when a teacher asked all the children to come with a roll of tissues each for the ‘teacher’s desk’.

A child who did not buy a tissue had his name blacklisted, so when he sneezed and coughed and needed a tissue, the teacher denied her tissue since he did not purchase any! 

Specific brands

“I was so infuriated when my son came home to tell me this! How embarrassing for that child!” says a disgusted Moraa.

Then the school asked parents to buy two felt pens for each child after it purchased smooth boards. 

“We did it, then teachers decided it was not working because children and teachers were apparently used to blackboards and chalks and they went back to using blackboards,” she says.

The cost of secondary school supplies is even more shocking. Nyakundi says when his eldest daughter was getting admission in form one last year, they were given a long list of supplies; 24 packets of a specific brand of whole milk, a certain brand of whole grain, specific soap, hockey sticks, textbooks from a clear cut bookshop, the uniforms were being sold by the school, ten fruits, a slasher, a jembe and one roll of wire-mesh.

“I found all these too expensive, I had to find other avenues to meet these costs and now I budget for those back-to-school costs way ahead of time,” he says.

Other expenses parents have to contend with, especially in the beginning of the year is Parents Teachers Association fees, extracurricular activity fees and fees for school trips.

For Rose Muthoni, returning to school was not much of a hustle because she had planned way ahead of time. 

“We started planning early, I bought the first batch of supplies in November, immediately after schools closed, then the rest in December. I find that prices are a bit friendlier before the rush starts.

We also started paying fees in November in batches. It helps a great deal,” she says.

As a mother of two, Muthoni admits that buying school supplies, especially with the new curriculum can be overwhelming for any parent. 

“Nothing messes up finances like one-off payments, that is why early planning is important,” she says.

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