Reopening of schools a nightmare for parents

Pupils at Mukangu Primary School  in Lugari, Kakamega County, during a lesson in September last year.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Many have exhausted their savings and the sudden change of plan has left them exposed.
  •  Kenya Parents Association chairman Nicholas Maiyo called on the government to revise school fees to lighten the burden on parents.
  • Parents, who had paid fees for the whole year, said the government should not include additional charges.

Caught flat-footed by the government’s decision to reopen schools next month, parents are staring at a mountain of bills amid reduced income and massive job losses.  

Barely hanging on due to the negative impacts of the pandemic, they will be required to dig deeper into their pockets to prepare children to report back in the middle of the month.

Many have exhausted their savings and the sudden change of plan has left them exposed.

They have to quickly raise fees for the second term, buy new sets of uniforms, face masks, soap and sanitiser for their children.

The education Covid-19 response committee, which has settled on October 19 as the reopening date, will today hand over its proposals to Cabinet Secretary George Magoha.

“The cost of taking the children back to school is too high. We need adequate preparation. It’s not just about the fees. There are many other incidentals,” Ms Terry Njeru, a parent in Meru County, told the Nation. “We simply don’t have the money to take children back to school. So many people have lost their jobs and businesses are failing. Is there a school which will accept children without fees?” she posed.

Some parents said the children are not psychologically prepared for resumption of studies, adding that a rushed reopening may cause a spike in cases of indiscipline. “Why reopen in October? We’ve not been prepared. I’m not psychologically prepared and I don’t think the students are. They will likely create confusion in school so they can be sent back home. They may go back and riot. The government should expect some reaction,” said Mr Fredrick Sewe in Nairobi.

Second term fees

 Kenya Parents Association chairman Nicholas Maiyo called on the government to revise school fees to lighten the burden on parents.

“Most parents lost their jobs in March and may not be able to raise the second term fees. The government should review the fees guidelines. We are in very difficult times,” he said.

On protective gear, the ministry has promised to provide two reusable face masks to needy learners while others will be required to buy them at Sh35 each. Mr Maiyo urged the government to supply the masks to schools at an affordable price.

Mr James Mutua, a parent in Nairobi’s Eastlands, said a majority had planned for January, “not October. I’ve two children in primary school who have outgrown their uniforms. I now have to buy new sets for them. But where’s the cash?” he posed.

Another parent, Ms Jacinta Mwangi, whose daughter is a secondary school student in Murang’a County, said she would have to take a loan to manage her fees.

“We’re under a lot of pressure; we’re confused because there is no money. We needed more time to plan,” she said.

Parents, who had paid fees for the whole year, said the government should not include additional charges.

And despite indications that the Covid-19 curve is flattening, some parents are still not sure if their children will be safe. “They have not given us much assurance that the disease is under control. In Europe, they’re reopening and shutting down again. Some of the children use public means, so the guidelines issued to schools don’t make sense,” Ms Charity Muthoni, another parent said.

Kenya Private Schools Association CEO Peter Ndoro urged the government to expedite the proposed Sh7 billion concessionary loans to bail out private institutions from financial woes caused by the pandemic.

“Anytime the ministry announces the date, we’re more than ready to receive the learners,” he said on phone.

Protective gear

Kenya Union of Special Needs Education Teachers secretary-general James Torome asked principals to give parents more time to pay fees. “We’re not opposed to reopening, what we are asking for is for the government to consider supplying personal protective gear to teachers in special needs schools,” he said.

Meanwhile, headteachers revealed that the government was yet to release school funds for Covid-19 infrastructure. Most schools are in poor shape and lack resources to put in place measures that will ensure safety of pupils.

Public schools are particularly ill-prepared to enforce social distancing guidelines as many learners study in congested classrooms.

“They’re going in the wrong direction and not addressing the real issues. We don’t need desks. We need classrooms,” a principal from Machakos County said.

The ministry has delayed the release of funds, affecting many services. As a result, non-teaching staff and teachers employed by Boards of Management have gone without pay for months.

fnyamai@ke.nationmedia.com dmuchunguh@ke.nationmedia.com