Parents seek options as congestion bites
Many students are being transferred from public boarding schools to public day schools and private institutions amid fears of unhealthy living conditions in overcrowded public institutions.
Teachers say the high cost of education and indiscipline are some of the factors that are also increasingly forcing parents to move their children from public boarding schools to mainly rural-based day schools.
“We are not opposing the government policy of 100 per cent transition to secendary, but there are now massive transfers of students by parents who are financially stable but are uncomfortable with their children learning in overcrowded public schools,” says Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) Machakos branch secretary, Paul Musembi Katuku.
In Kiambu county which has the most national schools in the country, some parents are opting to transfer Form One children barely a month after admission.
A parent at a national girls school in the county says her daughter has already contracted fungal infections and got endless colds.
“The schools are like concentration camps. There is not even space in the dormitory for girls to hang underwear,” she says.
National Parents Association chairman Nicholas Maina says he is aware some parents were transferring children from public to private schools.
“Some of these families did not get vacancies in their dream schools, so they have opted to transfer their children elsewhere,” he says.
He decried the obsession by parents with particular institutions, mainly the old, well-established national schools such as Alliance Boys and Girls, Mang’u and Maranda high schools. “Some parents have been calling me for help but I can’t assist them,” he says.
Maiyo says principals and boards of management of schools such as Kapsabet Boys are still under pressure from parents seeking vacancies although their children are already learning in ‘unwanted’ schools.
However, parents say public boadring institutions are too crowded, resulting in unhealthy living conditions.
Carol Wafula says she was forced to transfer her daughter from an upgraded national school in Western Kenya to a private institution after her child could not cope with congestion at the school.
Wafula says the learners are being forced to share limited amenities available, exposing them to air and waterborne diseases.
“A month would not pass before a teacher would call me to say that my daughter had a terrible stomach ache or flu,” she says.
When she went to the school, she would find three or more parents also picking up their children.
She says the school has converted corridors and classrooms into sleeping quarters as well as introduced triple-decker beds, barely allowing any breathing space.
“Limited air circulation, shared water amenities in the sleeping areas and classes are what were contributing to the constant sickness.
My daughter’s stress levels had also risen, so I had to do something about it,” she says.
Carol says her daughter’s performance was also not getting any better because the libraries was always too full, the laboratories shared by more than two classes and the teachers were overwhelmed.
The girl is now attending a private, but more expensive school in Nairobi. “She has settled and scores are improving,” she says.
According to Maiyo, such parents can afford to pay fees in private institutions.
“Despite the congestion in our schools, other desperate parents are asking to pay extra fees to buy beds, utensils and other equipment so as to get their children admitted,” he says.
While overall cost of educating a child has been declining — especially with the government sponsorships— other costs are making parents shy away from boarding schools.
“With decline in earnings from coffee and agriculture in general, parents, especially those in rural areas find it cheaper to educate their kids in local day schools where indirect costs are low,” observed Peter Irungu, a farmer from Murang’a county.
The farmer has moved his child from a county boarding school to a day school in his neighbourhood.
He says costs of boxes, blankets, bed sheets and other items students in boarding schools should be reduced by the State.
“Day schools reduce the pocket money required and bus fare to and from boarding schools,” he says.
Currently, the government gives each secondary school student Sh22,224 per year as fees subsidy.
Schools are then supposed to consult with parents and agree on other costs for services offered.
“If parents want their children to eat five-star hotel meals and are able to bear the costs, who are we to refuse?,” says a principal of a day secondary school in Murang’a county.
In his school, students are paying Sh4,000 for meals and Sh4,030 for school uniforms.
In a neighbouring sub-county, an institution which offers boarding facilities while maintaining day scholars, boarders pay Sh7,000 while day scholars cough Sh3,000.
But it is the burdening costs charged by county and national schools that is making some parents move their kids to cheaper day schools.
In one good performing girls’ secondary school in Nyeri county, Form one students, who reported a fortnight ago, paid Sh20,000 for boarding facilities and another Sh30,000 for uniforms.
The Form One students’ parents have been called for a ‘familiarisation meeting’ this month, ostensibly to learn more about their children’s welfare.
Such meetings that are mandatory to all parents of incoming students and are aimed at increasing school fees.
Parents are usually informed of ‘the other costs’ the school has to incur beyond what the State provides and the need for them to pay up.
Clandestine private tuition fees, motivation fees for best performing teachers as well as cost of numerous students tours are spelt out.
Eager to have their children get the best education, parents grudgingly accept.
Poor parents can no longer bear the costs opting to take their kids to day schools near their homes.
Education specialist Dr John Mugo lamented on the indirect costs parents have to bear to keep their kids in boarding schools.
“Direct and indirect costs are too high for parents in boarding schools. From transport fare, emergency cost in case of diseases and pocket money, parents are bearing the blunt of boarding institutions”, observed Dr Mugo, Zizi Afrique Foundation in a recent media interview.
While the cost is the main motivating factor driving some parents from boarding schools, indiscipline is another critical issue. Students discontinued in boarding schools due to lack of discpline are forced to attend day schools by their parents.
Surprisingly, some of these rogue students are ending up in public universities after reforming and doing well in KCSE.