Private institutions feel virus bug as 198 fail to reopen

Wednesday, October 14th, 2020 00:00 |
Some Grade Four pupils at Mukuru Community Centre Primary School wash their hands at the insitution when it reopened -open after Covid-19 pandemic break. Photo/PD/Boniface Msangi

At least 198 schools have failed to reopen their doors to students following the resumption of learning this week, affecting thousands of learners.

Kenya Private Schools Association  chief executive, Peter Ndoro, confirmed that the affected schools had either shut down or were unable to put in place Covid-19 containment measures due to hard economic times occasioned by the pandemic.

Ndoro said while the affected schools were spread across the country, majority of those hardest hit were in Nairobi, Mombasa and Nyeri counties.

He warned that unless the affected institutions received some financial injection or are allowed to demand school fees before admitting students, they may never reopen.

Challenging situation

“It is a challenging situation because even the school fees alone may still not be enough to sustain the schools. Remember, we have reopened to dilapidated infrastructure and we need to provide quality education… for us, it is very difficult because we depend on school fees 100 per cent,” said Ndoro.

He said given the current status, the association has advised its members to strike a balance between the interests of the school to have an environment that will provide quality education, and the needs of parents, coming from a depressed economy.

“I can tell you that private schools are really struggling to remain afloat and we are asking parents to assist us.

Staggered payment of fees arrangement is only acceptable in a situation where it does not compromise on provision of quality education and if this is not possible, fees has to be paid,” explained Ndoro.

The official warned that it is a tough balancing act for private schools following the directive by the Ministry of Education against sending children back home over lack of fees, saying it is their only source of income.

He warned that private schools remained in a tight fix and will require school fees, if they are to continue running since their attempts to seek government bail-out is yet to bear fruit.

“If we had received support we sought from the government, things would be different.

Public schools are lucky to have received capitation funds unlike private… in the absence of money, how are we supposed to run going forward,?” posed Ndoro.

His sentiments came as some primary and secondary school principals in Nyamira County defied the government’s directive against sending students home for lack of fees, a situation that risks locking hundreds of children out of classes.

The principals attributed the move to huge fees balances accumulated over time, adversely affecting running of schools.

In the concerned schools, students were vetted at the main gates and those found not to have cleared fees were turned away.

Some of the students refused to leave and instead chose to camp outside the gates arguing they did not have fare to take them back home.

Private primary schools were worst hit as proprietors vowed they will not allow any student with huge fee balances to step into the school compound.

“We had notified our parents two weeks ago of the fees balance their children owed to the school, but they decided to send them empty-handed,” a head teacher in one of the primary boarding schools in Borabu sub-county complained.

In one of the schools, all pupils who owed the institution more than Sh4,000 were turned away.

At Nyamira Boys High School, parents who accompanied their children were forced to make a commitment with the school’s administration to clear outstanding balances by end of this month, failing which the children would be sent home.

The school principal, George Onkundi, said he was forced to enter into agreements with parents on how they were going to clear balances, before allowing them to enter the institution.

Financial crisis

“Yes, there are huge fees balances owed to us but I am not sending the students back home with one condition; that parents clear with the school within the agreed period,” he told People Daily.

Other principals who sought anonymity for fear of being victimised said they were in a serious financial crisis running into millions of shillings accrued from fee arrears and insisted the outstanding money must be paid if the schools are to run smoothly.

“It is a tough situation. How do you expect us to allow students to come to school when we have no money to buy them food and for other logistics?” one principal wondered.

In Mombasa, scores of students from private schools that were either shut down or whose parents lost their sources of income due to the Covid-19 pandemic, continued trooping into public institutions seeking placement.

Most schools reported receiving significant numbers of parents from private schools seeking enrollment following the closure of their former schools.

At Kongowea Primary School, the head teacher Wilfrida Odongo said she had received two requests for Standard Eight candidates and more than 20 for Grade Four pupils.

She, however, said they had referred the affected parents to the office of the County Director of Education for further consideration, adding that the current number of learners is high.

“We have been listing down their details including names, respective grades or classes and keeping the applications pending further directions because it will be impossible to enrol them all while the existing population is overwhelming. Our school has a population of 1,670 against 22 classes only,” explained Odongo.

A similar situation was reported at Allidina Visram High School and St Augustine’s Preparatory School in Tudor. 

“I have received over 15 applications from private schools for Grade 4 and more are coming.

Some say they came after private schools where they were studying closed down.

Others said they wanted to enrol their children in public schools because they can no longer afford private schools fees after losing their jobs,” explained Jane Mukoba, the St Augustine’s head teacher.

On his part, Allidina Vishram Principal Juma Mshimu stated: “The candidates are already registered and we cannot enrol any extra students.

We can only try to provide a room for learning but again, we are over-enrolled already and it will be difficult.” Compiled by Evans Nyakundi, Irene Githinji and Reuben Mwambingu 

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