Are school fees guidelines a parody? Yes, say heads

THE FEES guidelines stipulated five years ago are no longer realistic if a school is to run efficiently, teachers argue.

The Sh18,000 that students are supposed to pay per year, as well as the Sh10,000 that the government throws in for each student, is pocket change if one considers the needs of a school.

Apart from the obvious costs such as payment of teachers hired by the Board of Governors, as well as the high prices for commodities because of new Value Added Tax charges, schools are also grappling with the perennial problem of infrastructure development.

Also, the reality on the ground, and which the government, at least according to teachers, seems blind to, is that the number of students joining secondary schools increases every year.

This has forced many schools to increase the number of streams in every class.

For instance, Alliance Girls High School, which in 2006 had four streams for each class, now has seven.

And so, faced with a growing student population, schools are forced to expand social amenities for the comfort of the learners.

This is why many schools have on-going construction projects for facilities such as dormitories, kitchens, dining halls, ablution blocks and social halls.

In most cases, the government does not step in to foot the bills for these amenities.

It is only in very rare cases when the ministry identifies a school in dire need of, say, a dining hall, and the government dispenses funds for construction.

John Awiti, chairman of the Kenya Secondary School Heads Association, says that the money to build infrastructure is usually sourced from parents.

“The school principal sits down with parents during the AGM and together they agree on the most pressing infrastructure needs of the school.

From there, they figure out how much the projects will cost and agree on a payment plan.”

The payments are integrated into the fee structures and spread out, depending on how long the project will take to complete.

For instance, if a school is building laboratories, for which a contractor has given a three-year deadline, then the fee structure for those three years will include the building costs.

Schools have come under criticism lately for burdening parents with the purchases of assets such as buses, which some people do not think are important enough to warrant special levies.

But Awiti disagrees.

To him, if a school is to provide holistic education for its charges, then a wide curriculum that goes beyond academia must be embraced.

This means that activities such as music festivals, science congresses, symposiums and games are integral in any school, all of which require transportation to run smoothly.

He explains that while financial institutions such as banks have provided loans to schools to enable them to buy buses at competitive prices, the parents still need to chip in.

And in any case, he points out, it is more expensive to keep hiring a bus than to buy one.

Interestingly enough, although different schools have different needs, the government has set up uniform fees guidelines for schools across the board.

For instance, national schools have a much higher population than county schools, which should translate into higher resource allocation from the government.

However, both these categories of schools have to make do with the Sh10,625 subsidy per year per student, and both are supposed to charge Sh18,627 per year per student.

Only day schools have a different levy, where the students are expected to pay only Sh3,600 per year.

These are among the concerns that the newly formed education task force is supposed to address when it starts meeting today.

The team is comprised of all the players in the education sector, and is mandated to find a solution for the on-going school fees crisis.

It will assess how much money should be charged in public schools and will take into account the high cost of living.
Daily Nation - Monday, February 17, 2014

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