Business of Form One: Parents pain as principals turn intake into money minting venture
Some principals, especially those in charge of national and extra-county boarding schools, have turned the institutions into money-minting businesses, exploiting parents through exorbitant prices of items such as uniforms.
Parents said they were at the mercy of the school administrators who are exploiting them in spite of the government banning sale of uniforms in schools. They now want the government to take action against the principals, who are also imposing extra levies and other hidden charges, contravening Ministry of Education guidelines.
On January 24, Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria said parents have the freedom to buy school items at the stores of their choice. However, the Nation established that some principals of boarding schools continue to sell the items or direct parents to source them from specific suppliers where they get a cut from the sales.
In several boarding schools, the principals are charging Sh22,600 for items bought from the institutions, including books, uniforms and mattresses.
For instance, a scarf and tie costing around Sh400 at Mombasa Uniform Centre are sold at Sh700 at Dr Aggrey High School in Taita-Taveta. A track suit with the school badge goes for Sh2,200 while it’s sold at Sh1,500 outside the school.
“The following requirements will be available in school to be bought at the cost indicated: white/black rubber shoes at Sh900, school magazine Sh1,000, branding of all items with an admission number Sh250, mattress (high density) and a bucket Sh3,000, games T-shirt and short Sh1,200, house T-shirt Sh700, jumper Sh2,800,” indicated the calling letter of one of the students joining the school.
“For uniformity, Dr Aggrey High School will provide mathematical tools which include a scientific calculator FX 82 EX, Nataraj geometrical set, Knec four-figure mathematical table 7th edition and two spring files. All parents are required to pay a total of Sh3,300 so that their sons can be issued the items by the school,” further stated the letter.
A parent who is a tailor said principals are benefiting from school uniforms.
“I have done the calculations, had I procured from a bookshop and uniform centre, I would have saved around Sh8,000, that’s how much the principals are pocketing per child,” said the parent.
Education stakeholders led by the National Parents Association chairperson Silas Obuhatsa urged the state to rein in the principals.
“We don’t expect heads of schools to charge parents any fees out of the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Education. On uniforms, you cannot coerce parents to buy uniforms from schools. Allow parents to buy where they want to buy,” said Mr Obuhatsa.
Kenya Secondary School Heads Association chairman Kahi Indimuli could not be reached for comment as his phone remained off.
In Kisii, parents also decried the high cost of uniforms.
A parent at one of the top performing schools claimed that he was shocked when he was forced to buy items amounting to close to Sh50,000 on reporting day yet they were not indicated in the admission letter.
Schools in the region were still compelling parents to buy uniforms from the institutions.
A parent who took his son to Meru School said she paid Sh22,600 for the uniform.
“The Sh22,600 was for a sweater, two pairs of trousers, blanket, bed cover and mattress among other essentials. I wonder what’s happening, the government said it had stopped principals from forcing us to procure uniforms from school but things on the ground are different,” revealed the parent.
At Kakamega High school, a parent narrated how she had to pay more than Sh22,000 for uniforms, a mattress and other items, at the school.
“The calling letter clearly states the amount we are supposed to pay for the uniforms and we have paid,” said the parent.
However, some schools kept to the directives of the ministry.
Parents whose children got admission letters to join St Teresa Mbooni Girls High School said they were relieved after the principals allowed them to buy the required items from outside the schools. “We have not been forced to buy uniforms from schools,” said a parent.
At Mama Ngina Girls High School, parents thanked the principal for not forcing them to buy the uniforms at school.
“It gives me more peace. I don’t sell uniforms, this is a school, not a business hub. I want parents to buy from wherever they want,” said Chief Principal Mwanamisi Omar.
Gharib Ombati, a parent who took his daughter to the school urged other principals to emulate Ms Omar.
“Things are tough for parents, the principal should be humane. Shopping is a bit costly, more expensive than the school fees. The government should subsidise fees for Form One to relieve parents who will channel the funds to shopping. Buying uniforms from outside the schools allows parents to bargain, unlike in schools where everything is all-inclusive and standard,” said Mr Ombati.
Mombasa Uniform Centre proprietor Monica Mutua, and others running bookshops, said their businesses have been affected by the principals running uniform shops in schools.
Ms Mutua said when the state banned schools from selling uniforms they breathed a sigh of relief but they were astonished when the calling letters stated the contrary.
“Initially, parents used to throng here to buy uniforms, but right now we are suffering low sales because principals are running their own businesses. The principals are also selling books in schools eating into our profits. They should let us do business and they run schools,” she said.
Some principals told the Nation they had bought the uniforms last year.
“Where do you want us to take the already procured uniforms? Uniformity is key in schools, that is one of the advantages of procuring from one source, to avoid different shades of colours,” said one of the principals.
However, National Assembly Education Committee Chairman Julius Melly urged the Teachers Service Commission to take action against principals imposing extra charges.
“TSC should give us a report on the principals that have been interdicted and sacked,” he said, adding that the Ministry of Education will be held accountable on the issues of fees, uniforms and illegal extra levies.
“As a committee, we are really concerned. Surely we told them parents should not buy uniforms from schools. What is the CS and his PS (principal secretary) Belio Kipsang doing about these issues in the sector? Are they toothless? Are they not able to implement government policies?” he asked.
Last month, the government issued school fee guidelines for boarding schools. Education CS Ezekiel Machogu urged parents to report incidents of any students turned away for not paying higher fees and other levies to the nearest education office for action.
“Parents whose children are enrolled in public day secondary schools should not be charged any fees because the government is catering for all the tuition costs amounting to Sh22,244,” said the CS.
Yesterday, Mr Machogu directed secondary schools not to turn away needy Form One students over lack of fees and other requirements.
He insisted that no child should remain at home because there were enough vacancies for pupils joining secondary school.
“Where parents cannot buy the uniforms immediately, they should be given time so that the child can come with the uniform that they used in primary school and use it for the time being,” he said.
While monitoring Form One admission at St George’s Girls in Nairobi, Mr Machogu expressed his satisfaction, saying that county and regional directors were also reporting a smooth admission.
Mr Machogu revealed that the government last week disbursed Sh16 billion to about 10,000 secondary schools across the country. The ministry had earlier reported that capitation for learners at secondary school level will remain at Sh22,244.
Additional reporting by Esther Nyandoro