Teachers ration food as high cost of living dent schools' budget

Students eating lunch

Students of St Michael’s Secondary School, Mukuru during lunch break. Principals and headteachers are in a dilemma over how to run schools as the rising cost of living exceeds budgets they had prepared at the beginning of the year.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Principals and headteachers are in a dilemma over how to run schools as the rising cost of living exceeds budgets they had prepared at the beginning of the year.

The teachers now find themselves in a tight corner as they can’t raise fees mid-year, yet the cash they expect from parents and the government is inadequate to run schools efficiently. Moreover, parents owe schools millions of shillings in fee balances and yet the Education ministry prohibits sending learners away.

This year has four school terms as the third term of 2021 spilled into 2022. The first term of 2022 ends this week and the other two will be covered in five months with only brief breaks in-between. As schools close, principals and headteachers are relieved as they had run out of food and had no money to buy more.

Things may get worse

They said things may get worse when they open next term.

Kenya Secondary School Heads Association (Kessha) Chairperson Indimuli Kahi said the price increases have put schools in a difficult situation.

“Every time you ask a supplier for a product, the prices keep going up,” Mr Kahi said.

 Kessha has since written to the Ministry of Education requesting that schools be supplied with grains directly from the National Cereal and Produce Board (NCPB) at a cheaper price, Mr Kahi said.

“At the moment, Kessha cannot advise principals to increase fees, as it’s an illegality and against Ministry of Education guidelines,” he said.

 The most affected are boarding schools because of the high cost of food, electricity and fuel. Day schools are also affected as they charge fees for lunch.

High commodity costs don’t just affect food items but also other operations. Prices for laboratory chemicals and equipment, printing paper, fuel and electricity have all gone up.

Construction projects

Schools that have ongoing construction projects are paying more for construction materials like cement and steel bars, whose prices in the last six months have skyrocketed beyond their provision in the bills of quantities.

“For the first time since I became a principal, we’re closing school with the highest debts owed to suppliers. Worse still, there’s a mismatch between what the students owe and the debts we owe creditors,” a principal from Embu County told Nation.

Some schools have reduced meal portions for students while others stopped offering items like tea at break time to cope with the harsh economic times.

The cost of dry maize and maize flour—a stable food in many schools — has doubled from January this year. Speaking to the Nation yesterday, Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers Secretary-General Akelo Misori said high food and energy prices have put a big strain on the running of schools.

Parents already overburdened

“Our principals are trying their best to absorb these costs, knowing well that parents are already overburdened at home. The only way out is for the government to provide a stimulus package to schools,” he said.

In January, a 90kg bag of maize was averaging Sh3,000 but is currently going for as high as Sh6,500. It’s more expensive in some regions.

On Tuesday, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya announced that, from July, the government will remove all levies on imported maize in order to lower its cost.

However, it is not just the cost of maize which has gone up. A 50kg bag of rice is retailing at an average of Sh6,400 whereas in January it cost Sh5,000.

Equally, a 90kg bag of beans that cost Sh7,000 in January is now going for Sh9,500 on average.

Early this year, a 2kg packet of maize was retailing at Sh188 but has now hit the Sh200 mark. The cost of other items like cooking oil and vegetables has also gone up.

Unable to clear fee balances

Kenya National Association of Parents Chairman Nicholas Maiyo told Nation that some parents are unable to clear fee balances or even feed their families.

Early Learning and Basic Education Principal Secretary Julius Jwan said the ministry is engaging the NCPB to sell grains directly to schools at cheaper prices.

“But principals need to negotiate with parents on payment of fees. There’s no question about [that]. The government covers tuition expenses and parents should meet the cost of boarding and meals,” he said. 

He, however, ruled out the possibility of increasing school fees mid-year, arguing that schools terms have been shortened but the capitation to schools was not reduced.


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