Parents clash with private schools on online classes fees

What you need to know:

  • Some institutions are accused of taking advantage of Covid-19 to charge extra fees for online classes as schools face a serious cash crunch as fees is their main revenue stream.
  • The situation has been worsened by Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha’s extension of the closure by a month. Schools were to open for second term next week.

Parents are locked in a battle with private school owners and managers over fees following the unprecedented closure of learning institutions worldwide due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Some institutions are accused of taking advantage of Covid-19 to charge extra fees for online classes that they are offering to mitigate the nationwide closure of schools that face a serious cash crunch as fees is their main revenue stream.

The situation has been worsened by Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha’s extension of the closure by a month. Schools were to open for second term next week.

Many of them have now turned to online classes for which parents have been tasked to pay. “This pandemic happened unexpectedly. If the Ministry of Education is not keen on private schools, they shall be finding ways to make income,” a parent told the Nation.

At Riara Road Primary and Riara Springs Primary, parents have been asked to pay between Sh13,500 and 17,500 per month for pupils in Grade One to Standard Eight.

A parent who did not want to be identified termed the fees as unfair and insensitive.

“We had already paid full fees for first term. We cannot now be required to pay more to cater for online learning, which is happening in homes. We’re using more electricity, money for Internet bundles, food and other costs, which should be normally borne by the school. It’s unfair to demand more money from us,” she said, adding, she’s ready to go to court to stop the additional fee demands.

Riara has gone a step further by making their lessons accessible even to learners from other schools, who are required to pay a registration fee of Sh3,000 plus the monthly charges.

The situation is different at Nova Pioneer Schools, where the management said it is engaged in discussions with parents’ associations at each of its four schools to agree on the amount to charge for the online classes.

“Of course there are costs that schools incur, but what parents pay should be limited to those costs only. Schools should agree with the parents on what to charge,” Christopher Khaemba, the director, said.

Parents, he added, will be furnished with the figure by the end of the week. The schools switched to online learning three days after last term’s closure.

“We already had the infrastructure in place,” Mr Khaemba said.

Some parents have queried the efficacy and rationale of the charges. They argue that since the learners are not at school, the institutions do not incur high maintenance, meals, transport and other costs.

A letter by parents from St Christopher’s School to the management protested that the virtual lessons are not effective.

“It is only a few of us who can attest to our children being engaged by their teachers. For the most part, it was one or two teachers who engaged with our children and even then, these interactions were limited to one or two 45-minute sessions a day,” read the letter.

International schools like Nairobi International, Banda Schools, Kenton College, Hillcrest, Gems Cambridge, Peponi and Kabete, St Christopher’s, Premier Academy and Aga Khan have given parents fee discounts ranging from 20 to 50 per cent to cater for the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, parents at Brookhouse International have rejected a discount of between 10 and 30 per cent, saying it’s “too little to make a difference”.

“The 25 per cent is on the lower side as we all know with the advent of Covid-19, our jobs are unstable, whether we are business owners or employed,” read a memo from Aga Khan Schools parents.

Another letter by some Rusinga School parents dated April 17 to the board of directors asked the institution to consider fee discounts of 50 per cent for kindergarten, 45 per cent for prep school, and 40 per cent for high school.

The tuition fees for Year 1 learners (six-to-seven-year-olds) is Sh180,000 per term while Year Four, Five and Six pay Sh222,500. Parents with children in senior school Year 11 fork out Sh408,500 per term.

Those in A-Level pay Sh443,000 per term. “The pandemic has disrupted our work, lives and livelihoods in an unprecedented manner. Many parents and guardians are at pains as to where the next earnings will come from, and what to prioritise in order to sustain all facets of life, which includes our children’s education,” read the letter.

‘Someone has to pay’

However, the Kenya Private Schools Association CEO Peter Ndoro told the Nation that the online programmes are new packages different from regular tuition to keep learners engaged.

“Online learning was not factored in the normal fees. Schools have expenses relating to electricity, digital devices and Internet. All these have to be costed and someone has to pay for it,” he said.

He further said the association has secured jobs for all employees of private schools.

“Where the schools are unable to pay full salaries, we’ve asked them to negotiate with the employees to take pay cuts, and where they cannot completely afford to pay, they take unpaid leave,” he said.

The Kenya Association of International Schools declined to comment on the issue. Secretariat coordinator Jane Mwangi did not respond to questions sent to her on the fees row.

At Kenton College Preparatory School, parents wrote to the chairman of the board of directors Chris Banks asking for a reduction of the fees on April 17. They pay about Sh1,921,000 per year.

An April 25 communication to Kianda School parents said they would be invoiced for online classes that began on Monday. It read:

“We have closely reviewed our financial situation, and we seek your co-operation to enable us meet all our financial obligations as we endeavour to ensure your children continue learning.

“Our only source of revenue is the school fees and we operate on a non-profit balanced budget to cover the expected running costs for the year.”

A parent with a child at Shani Angaza School said they have been asked to pay second term fees in full.

Unlike public schools, private schools are not government funded.

Additional reporting by Faith Nyamai

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