End of free secondary education? Parents to pay higher fees in new proposal

What you need to know:

  • Under pressure from impatient suppliers, the government’s failure to release free learning cash and the high cost of living, principals are now seeking a fee increase across all categories of secondary schools in a move that will see parents of students in free day schools dip into their pockets for the first time in 15 years.
  • All university students will also foot a percentage of their tuition fees in changes disclosed this week.

The Free Day Secondary Education (FDSE) that has benefitted millions of learners for the last 15 years will come to an end if the government adopts proposals by school principals that will see parents dig into their pockets for their children’s education.

Through the Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association (Kessha), the principals have proposed an increase in school fees for all categories of secondary schools, whereby parents with children in county and extra county schools will feel the pinch of the highest fees raise (Sh25,488). This would take the annual fees paid by the parents to Sh66,023 up from Sh40,535.

If implemented, learners in day schools and who, according to Ministry of Education data, account for about 70 per cent of all learners in secondary school, and who have being enjoying free tuition, will pay Sh5,372.

Learners in day secondary schools only pay for their meals in arrangements agreed upon by parents and the boards of management.

Kessha has proposed a fee increase of Sh19,628 for learners in national schools. This would take the annual fees to Sh73,182 up from Sh53,554.

“The fees charged in schools is highly inadequate as schools are operating on a shoe-string budget as prescribed. Debts are therefore piling in schools while infrastructure development has become impossible,” reads the proposal by the principals.

The proposal comes just days after a disclosure that all university students will now pay a percentage of their tuition fees, contrary to an earlier declaration by President William Ruto that those considered economically vulnerable will be fully funded by the government.

This means only learners in the primary school and junior school segments would enjoy free education.

According to reports, the Higher Education Loans Board and the Universities Fund have revised the categorisation of students to introduce a new tier which was not there when Dr Ruto unveiled the funding model in May. The categorisation has also revised downwards the percentages of assistance the government will extend to students in institutions of higher learning.

The model will only apply to first year students, who have gone without funding for close to two months since the processing of their applications has not been completed.

Curiously, the document that Kessha presented to the Education ministry this week, and which the Nation has seen, does not propose an increase in government capitation, although the association has been calling for it previously.

All secondary school learners are allocated Sh22,244 per year but the government has been remitting less money to schools, a situation principals say complicates their work.

“The programme has been faced with myriad challenges that have adversely affected its well-intended purpose . There is need for the government to urgently address the many challenges and constraints that have become the bottleneck of the programme. This document highlights the proposal of Kessha on the most reasonable fee to be levied in our schools taking into consideration the cost of living and balancing it with the desire to have quality and affordable secondary education,” the proposal reads.

It comes just a week after Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu admitted that the government has been underpaying schools. In a letter dated October 18, 2023 addressed to Clerk of the Senate JM Nyegenye, Mr Machogu states that over the last five years, the government failed to remit over Sh60 billion to secondary schools under the FDSE programme.

He was responding to questions by Embu Senator Alexander Mundigi who wanted details of how FDSE funds have been disbursed as well as plans to review and adjust the FDSE capitation from the current Sh22,244.

Mr Mundigi noted that schools need assistance to manage “the significant rise in costs of teaching materials and meals for boarding students”.

He told the Nation that he sought the information following complaints about lack of funds to run schools from principals. “Many schools closed early because they didn’t have money to last them till the end of the term. This means learners did not cover the content they were meant to cover,” he said.

Principals have been accusing the ministry of withholding funds meant for schools. “This is choking schools to death and we have no avenues to tackle these issues with the ministry,” a principal told the Nation.

However, from responses Mr Machogu has presented before Senate, he appears to lay the blame on the National Treasury.

“The funds provided to the ministry have fallen short of the approved rate, leading to underfunding of schools,” said Mr Machogu in the letter. He observes that the report of the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms (PWPER) recommended that the capitation for FDSE be raised to Sh22,527, a change the CS terms ‘nominal’.

In the Kessha proposals, principals also want the textbooks policy reversed and the allocated funds channelled through schools instead of the books being procured centrally by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development.

The principals have also asked the ministry to allow them to be in charge of the supply of school uniforms.