Schools mint millions through uniforms and motivation fees

Form One admission

A teacher issues uniforms to Form One students at Muruguru Girls High School in Nyeri County.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Illegal revenue generators like motivation fee were among the costs Dr Mwiria’s team sought to scrap in schools.
  • Motivation fee has become the other big, and strangest, money generation gimmick that schools are using to milk the already stretched parents.

Parents have become cash cows for a racketeering syndicate in the education sector that is minting billions from services that are not part of the core mandate of learning institutions—uniform distribution and motivation fees.

Despite numerous warnings from successive governments, some schools are still forcing parents to buy uniforms from specific suppliers, a move that has seen billions move from parents’ pockets to the bank accounts of a select few companies.

For the past three weeks, the Nation has engaged several stakeholders in the education sector to get an insight into just how much parents part with each year for uniforms and motivation fees.

In 12 schools from a similar number of counties that we sampled, parents with children in Form One parted with Sh114 million for uniforms. The cheapest uniform from the schools sampled was Sh14,000, quoted by Matuga Girls High School in Kwale County and Kisii High School. Parents were free to buy uniforms from any supplier.

Mary Hill Girls High School in Kiambu County had the most expensive uniform in the sampled group, charging parents Sh29,895 for a full set of uniforms. Parents were asked to buy the uniform at Chania Distributors, one of the biggest suppliers in the country.

Other schools we encountered that asked parents to buy uniforms from specific suppliers were Nyangwa High School in Embu County (Weaver Bird Garments) and Kenya High School in Nairobi County (School Outfitters).

Parents with children in Murang’a High School, Kaplong Girls High School and St Mary’s School Yala were required to source uniforms from the respective schools.

At Uhuru Market, along Jogoo road in Nairobi, dozens of tailors produce uniforms for some schools at a lower price. The market provides relief for parents who cannot afford prices quoted by their children’s schools.

“Sometimes the cost is half of what the schools ask parents to pay. Hundreds of parents line up here looking for uniforms for both primary and secondary schools each day. You can get just about any uniform you need here, it is just a matter of the quality you are looking for because it is different with every school,” a trader at one of the shops in the market said, but requested anonymity as he is an employee at the shop.


Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria had in January banned public schools from selling uniforms and textbooks and other supplies directly to parents, but several schools across the country violated the directive.

Uniform costs in some instances surpass school fees for a single term, as some learning institutions ignore numerous government directives and collude with suppliers to ensure parents fund one of the most lucrative support businesses in the education sector.

Nearly every year, the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) has issued warnings to schools that force parents to buy uniforms from specific suppliers.

Public schools have been enjoying a loophole in law to get around potential punishment by the CAK. Section 9 of the CAK Act that came into force in 2012 only allows the authority an advisory role when dealing with government bodies, which includes public schools. It cannot, therefore, fine or impose other punishments on public schools that flout competition laws by colluding with suppliers.

When Form One students were reporting to school in 2022, CAK issued an advisory to the Ministry of Education, suggesting that guidelines for uniform production and distribution be formulated to protect parents from predatory conduct costing them billions every year.

“Schools, especially public schools, are not in trade and therefore not within the jurisdiction of the Competition Act No.12 of 2010. However, the alleged exclusive contracts deprive parents of one of their fundamental rights, the right of choice, without providing reasonable grounds such as quality of the uniforms. It is on this basis that the Competition Authority of Kenya requested the Ministry of Education to develop guidelines or policy directives which would provide for the acceptable minimum quality and standardisation of school uniforms, while at the same time providing parents with their fundamental right of choice,” CAK said last year. No action was taken.


Last week, Githunguri MP Gathoni Wamuchomba tabled a motion in the National Assembly seeking to standardise the uniform production and distribution process, a move that could bring to an end the practice that is minting millionaires at the expense of parents.

Ms Wamuchomba seeks to have uniform quality and costs regulated. She also wants tailors and other fabric dealers allowed to participate in production, a move that would bring down prices while spreading revenue among more players. All eyes will now be on the MP, who is expected to sponsor a Bill on the issue.

During a sitting last week, Seme MP James Nyikal asked his colleagues to take action on Ms Wamuchomba’s proposals as several families are hurting.

“When you go to schools, the amount you spend is a big portion of school fees. Girls have skirts, blouses, sweater, wind breaker and these are things they do not use at home. Shoes for sports, bathrooms and many items they cannot afford at home. Uniforms drain the families’ finances,” Dr Nyikal said.

Social media has been awash with individuals fundraising for poor children whose parents are unable to afford school uniforms. Many children have reported to school late and only after assistance from well-wishers.

In October, 2014 when the uniform cash cow was inching towards being the new normal, then President Uhuru Kenyatta received a task force report that proposed standardisation of school uniforms. The task force, led by former educationist Kilemi Mwiria, was appointed by Mr Kenyatta with the intention of lowering the cost of education to make it accessible to all Kenyans.

Illegal revenue generators like motivation fee were among the costs Dr Mwiria’s team sought to scrap in schools.

Motivation fee has become the other big, and strangest, money generation gimmick that schools are using to milk the already stretched parents.

It started out, just over a decade ago, as a morale booster for teachers who were tirelessly driving their students to good grades in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examinations.

Parents would pool together whatever amount of money and remit the same to teachers. And thus, the motivation fee was born.

The token of appreciation, however, became an opportunity for thousands of secondary school principals, who have essentially become crime bosses, to shake down parents for the illicit motivation fee.

In some schools, it is referred to as a remedial fee aimed at paying teachers for offering students extra classes outside normal hours, despite a ban on the same by successive governments.

Some of the schools our team sampled, like Kaplong Girls High School in Baringo County, charge parents both motivation and remedial fees.

The motivation fee racket across the country mints billions of tax free shillings every year with cruel methods , such as sending students sent home and only allowing them back after paying up, being employed.

In just 14 schools we sampled across 10 counties, parents will part with over Sh213 million in motivation or remedial fees this year. No receipt will be issued. That means that on average, each of the schools minted Sh15.2 million in motivation fees.

Currently, there are over 9,000 public secondary schools in Kenya.

Just half of the public secondary schools charging motivation fees at an average of the figures we encountered would mean parents with children in those institutions would have parted with close to Sh70 billion this year alone. The prevalence of the illegal fee in schools indicates that in reality parents could be parting with much more.

‘Receipts are not issued’

“We are made to pay for remedial or motivation fee, library fee, research and internet services and in most cases receipts are not issued for such payments,” one of the parents we spoke to, whose child is in a public school in Baringo, said.

The motivation and remedial fees are not listed in the fee structure or any other official document given to parents, seemingly a way to give schools and their heads plausible deniability in the event of an investigation.

The money is paid in cash and mobile money wallets in some cases. Some schools ask parents to give money to teachers directly. Some schools sending students home for non-payment.

Education CS Ezekiel Machogu, and his predecessors George Magoha, Fred Matiang’i, Amina Mohamed and Jacob Kaimenyi have all banned the illegal fees, but thousands of schools continue to charge parents and make it compulsory.

So far, no tangible action has come of the bans and warnings against charging motivation or remedial fees and offering of classes outside the government-prescribed times.

In some institutions like Alliance High School, motivation fee is optional. Some parents we spoke to said that there is a WhatsApp group where the fee is deliberated on. In 2023, parents agreeable to paying the fee are parting with Sh2,700 per term.

Illegal levy

Of the schools sampled by the Nation, Upper Hill School had the highest motivation fee, pegged at Sh6,000 per term. That means its 1,200 students will pay Sh21.6 million in motivation fee this year, unless the government steps in to block the illegal levy.

Some private schools also charge the fee. A parent in a private school that requested anonymity even for the institution revealed that she parts with Sh25,000 every term in motivation fees. Many of the parents with children in private schools, however, said that the fees are optional.

The problem has spilled over to primary schools as well. Visa Oshwal, a public primary school in Westlands, Nairobi, now charges Sh1,000 in motivation fees for Grade Six and Seven pupils. The money is used to pay for extra classes on Saturdays.

Reporting by Brian Wasuna, David Muchunguh, Barnabas Bii, Mwangi Ndirangu, Elizabeth Ojina, Kassim Adinasi, George Odiwuor, Wycliffe Nyaberi, Winnie Atieno and Mercy Koskey


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