Row over school fees payment via e-Citizen tip of the iceberg


President William Ruto during the launch of e-Citizen services, GavaMkononi app and Gava Express at KICC in Nairobi on June 30.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The government always signs up to great intentions such as raising enrollment through a 100 per cent transition and making learning affordable through capitation and bursaries, but in reality, does little to make them happen.
  • The contestation over the fee payment model is just but the tip of the iceberg. It masks serious financial, professional, structural, and administrative problems facing secondary schools.

The impasse over a new government directive requiring secondary schools to collect fees through a mobile payment system calls attention to secondary education that has been going through a tumult in recent years.

On January 30, Basic Education Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang’ issued a circular to national schools directing them to furnish the ministry headquarters with their banking details as part of an undertaking by the State to centralise and streamline school fees payment. However, the High Court stopped the plan pending a hearing and conclusion of a suit challenging the directive.

The contestation over fees payment model is just but the tip of the iceberg. It masks serious financial, professional, structural and administrative problems facing secondary schools.

First, secondary schools are facing a cash crunch for several reasons. The first is inadequate funding by the National Treasury. As at the end of last year, the government owed secondary schools Sh54 billion.

Although the government allocates Sh22,300 as capitation for every learner every year, on average, the actual disbursement is about Sh11,000.

In January, the government released 16 billion to secondary schools but only after persistent calls by teachers and unions. The bulk of the money went into settling pending debts and deficits still persist. And since Form Ones reported in mid-January, no funds have been released to take care of them, meaning schools rely on the previous allocations to keep them.

The second issue regarding funds is poor management and third is the bursaries debacle. Fourth is regulation of schools’ fees, which though desirable to weed out corrupt school managers, is unrealistic and tenable with the current economic conditions. Add to this the high inflation that pushed the cost of living to the sky, then the situation becomes dire.

A critical issue is the numerous and unaccounted levies charged by schools, which is why the government wants to digitalise fees payment. This is the cost-sharing policy that requires parents and communities to provide facilities, giving school heads and boards of management okay to raise money from parents.

Another major challenge is the implementation of the 100 per cent transition policy that stipulates that all Standard Eight candidates transition to secondary school irrespective of their abilities. Improving transition is a noble goal. It assures learners of pursuing secondary and in turn, preparing them for higher education that then puts them on pedestal to succeed in life.

According to Unesco, basic education comprises primary and secondary education and so, any system that allows for complete transition across those levels is on the right path to achieving universal basic education.,

However, the push for higher enrolments has not been matched with commensurate teaching and learning facilities as well as hostels, dining halls and sanitation. Across the country, schools are overly congested with students learning and living in difficult conditions. Many schools have more than 10 streams with an average of 60 learners. Boarding schools are particularly hard hit. Existing dormitories, dining halls and toilets are inadequate and pose health problems to learners.

Also, schools face acute teacher shortage. According to the Teachers Service Commission (TSC), there is a shortfall of 58,581 teachers in public secondary schools. As at June last year, there were 123,985 teachers in 9,246 public secondary schools against the required 182,566.

No significant changes have occurred since.

TSC’s current strategic plan, 2023-2027, projects that the country will require 111,870 permanent teachers and 100,000 intern teachers in the next three years, at least 30 per cent for secondary schools.

The secretary-general of the Kenya Union of Post-Primary Teachers, Akelo Misori, says most secondary schools operate with just 60 per cent of the required teachers. In view of this, schools are compelled to hire teachers, which significantly raises operational costs.

This problem has persisted for a long time. A report done in 2014 by the Taskforce on Secondary School Fees, which was chaired by a former Assistant Minister for Higher Education, Dr Kilemi Mwiria, underscored this challenge, indicating that the BoM teachers constituted 37 per cent of the teaching force in schools, consuming the bulk of the recurrent budget.

Broadly, secondary education is suffering from poor policy execution. The government always signs up to great intentions such as raising enrollment through a 100 per cent transition, making learning affordable through capitation and bursaries and expanding facilities, but in reality, does little to make them happen.

Another illustration of this is the bursary scheme to cushion the needy students, but which is perennially dogged by challenges. The bursary is managed at the constituency level because it to the constituencies for allocation to the needy students and not only do the remittances delay, but the allocations are insufficient and largely benefit those favoured by the local politicians. In essence, the bursary hardly achieves the desired goal of benefitting truly needy students.

“When the government fails to remit all the capitation grants but forces the institutions to enrol large numbers of students and keep all of them even without paying fees, then the policy fails to achieve the goal,” says Mr Misori. “Facilities are stretched to the limit and the rising cost of living making it difficult for schools to plan and live within their budgets.”

The TSC has also raised concern about the unplanned establishment of schools. Such schools create a problem in the sense that cannot get adequate teachers or facilities because they are not in government records.

Basically, secondary education sector is poorly managed and hardly supervised because of institutional and systemic flaws at the education ministry. Secondary education requires a rethink and not reactive policies such as centralising fees collection, which cannot cure long-standing shortcomings.