President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government has been making strides to achieve a 100 per cent transition from primary to secondary schools but if a recent report is anything to go by, we still have a long way to go.
According to the Economic Survey 2022, the number of students transitioning from primary to secondary school last year was the lowest compared to available statistics, over the last 5 years. The report revealed only 75.8 per cent of learners moved from Primary to Secondary in 2021, compared to other years.
The fees and costs associated with secondary school enrollment, especially in boarding schools continue to be a barrier that locks out children from poor households from accessing education.
According to a 2021 report by the Office of the President, 250,000 girls and 125,000 boys failed to return to school in January 2021 when schools resumed learning after the 2020 closure, largely because of school fees and teenage pregnancies.
Additional costs such as costs of uniforms, textbooks and school development funds continue to increase the financial burden of secondary education, making it unaffordable for many households.
Students are also often in and out of school due to school fees arrears even as Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha continues to play lip service with the issue, always announcing in press conferences that “no child should be blocked from attending school because of school fees” yet education county officers maintain that they never receive any memos to such effect.
“We only act based on memos from the CS but in the absence of one, sorry to say but that it just publicity stunts” a County Education Officer who requested to stay anonymous revealed.
The officer was speaking to parents who had visited her office to complain after a headteacher send their children home over fee arrears and was adamant that the arrears had to be paid in full and still declined admission to any child that had paid a portion of the fee balance.
“If this is a public school and even after paying KSH 10,000 to offset part of my 29,000 fee balance my child is still sent away!! What are we supposed to do!! Mimi sasa nimefika mwisho(I have hit the wall),” one parent lamented.
Free Education in Kenya?
The government has been providing free primary education and secondary day schooling and a cap for secondary boarding school fees but schools have often overlooked these thanks to weak enforcement of policies and continue to burden parents with illegal levies and fees. In July last year, the ministry set fees for national schools at Sh45,054 and county schools at Sh35,035.
The Ministry of Education even went ahead to order secondary schools to refund fees charged beyond the amount recommended by the government but as parents suspected, that was not going to materialise.
“Any fees collected above the revised guidelines be refunded or treated as prepayment of fees for continuing students… No child will be sent away for non-payment of such fees,” the circular dated August 9 reads in part.
Kenya Parents Association chair Nicholas Maiyo was also on record saying Schools instead went ahead to add additional costs in the name of “Covid Fund” and CBC classrooms construction.
headteachers were unlikely to obey the directive as they have often blatantly ignored them.
“This can easily turn into just another declaration that will be ignored. How will the ministry ensure it is followed?” Maiyo said, urging the ministry to take firm measures to ensure what he says are not just mere declarations.
“It’s high time the ministry started auditing schools and holding them to account. There is a particular need to ensure the millions paid by parents over the years in illegal levies are accounted for. The ministry can invite the anti-graft agency and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations to schools to conduct forensic audits” he said.
Mercy* a 17-year-old girl from a low-income family, who has just finished form four, is a good illustration of just how being in and out of school can affect academic performance.
“Every school holiday I had to do meagre jobs to help my mother raise not just fees but generally make ends meet. During the 2021 school closure over Covid-19 outbreak, while other students were learning online, I was working as a house help. I was still lucky enough to finish form four but ended up getting a D, I have always been a C student at the very least,” Mercy said.
She would love to repeat the class and get a better grade but the resources won’t let her.
“I don’t know what the future hold for me now? I just don’t know what my next steps are, I can only put my hope in God,” she says.
Education is key to the country’s economic development and if Kenya is to reap from the demographic dividend and curb the ever-growing teen pregnancies, the government must lower the financial burden of accessing secondary education and make it affordable and accessible to every child.
School Fees Directives Magoha Should Take Action