Hundreds of orphans and poor children selected to join top secondary schools have not reported because of lack of fees.
A Nation survey across the country returned shocking tales of children who scored high marks in last year’s Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examination but are wasting away at home.
This is in spite of the fact that the government has allocated billions of shillings in bursaries that are administered by Members of Parliament and county assemblies.
And on Friday, Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi issued new guidelines in a bid to address the exorbitant fees problem.
John Kyalo is an orphan who scored 367 marks and was admitted to Kenyatta High School, Mwatate. His sister cannot raise the Sh47,000 required.
Emmanuel Ondieki, who scored 373 marks at Nyanturago Primary School in Kisii and was admitted to Nairobi School, cannot raise Sh88,000. Relatives and neighbours say his mother is terminally ill.
Ong’era Nyabuti Dominic was admitted to Mang’u High School in Thika but his mother, Florence Kemuma, cannot raise Sh90,365.
These youngsters have applied for sponsorship in vain.
This is an indictment of the country’s skyrocketing education costs and the administration of bursaries.
The Kilemi Mwiria-led task force reviewed the unit cost of education in public schools and recommended that day secondary schools charge not more than Sh29,975 annually, boarding schools Sh51,839 and county, extra-county and special education schools Sh55,435.
However, many schools charge more than Sh100,000 a year.
In this financial year, the Constituency Development Fund bursary kitty alone was allocated Sh1.1 billion.
Almost all county governments also have bursaries running into billions of shillings.
The allocation to each constituency is based on secondary school enrolment and poverty index.
Undeserving students have been offered bursaries yet needy students were given as a little as Sh2,000 or nothing.
MPs and Members of County Assemblies are spreading the money to as many households as possible for political mileage.
The regulation caps the minimum allocation to students in day schools at Sh8,000 while those in boarding and national institutions at Sh10,000 and Sh15,000 respectively. Unfortunately, it is largely ignored.
Confronted with these facts, Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi told the Nation that MPs should speed up the issuing of bursaries to deserving students.
“It is no longer the ministry’s responsibility. Schools also have ways of raising funds to support such learners,” Prof Kaimenyi said.
But a few hours later, he issued new fees guidelines.
Speaking at the ministry’s headquarters at Jogoo House, Nairobi on Friday, Prof Kaimenyi said the government set day secondary school fees at Sh9,374, boarding secondary school fees at Sh53,543 and special education schools at Sh37,210 a year.
He said the maximum costing of secondary day schooling is Sh22,244 and boarding secondary school Sh66,424.
With the government capitation of Sh12,870, for regular schools and Sh32,600 for special needs schools, those figures are reduced to Sh53,553 for boarding schools, Sh37,210 for special needs schools and Sh9,374 for day schools.
“Schools will spread these fees into the three terms in the ratio of 50:30:20. I don’t expect headteachers to ask for all the money in first term,” Prof Kaimenyi said.
Kenya National Association of Parents and Teachers chairman Nathan Barasa said no child should fail to join a school of his or her choice because of lack of fees.
“Principals have no right to reject a child just because he has less money than what is stipulated. They can admit the child and allow parents to look for the fees,” Mr Barasa said.
Council of Governors Secretary Ken Lusaka said most devolved governments had set aside money for poor students. But he admitted managing the money is a problem.
“If properly coordinated, the kitty can help very many students. There is no need to give a child money this year only for him or her to receive nothing the following year,” the Bungoma Governor said.
Parliamentary Education Committee chairperson Sabina Chege said processing of bursaries should be speeded up.
“We have to start an awareness campaign so that parents do not come late to make applications,” the Murang’a County Woman Representative said.
She urged lawmakers to consider increasing the allocation.
“Proper allocation of bursaries is being hampered by political interests,” Ms Chege added.
Outraged by revelations of the survey, the Catholic Church weighed in, saying no child should be locked out of any public school over failure to pay fees.
The Church’s Commission for Education and Religious Education Committee Vice-Chairman Maurice Crowley said it was the obligation of the government to ensure that the children’s right to education was enforced.
“These funds should only benefit the poor,” Bishop Crowley said in a statement.
In February last year, Prof Kaimenyi formed a task force to determine a realistic unit cost of secondary education and review the guidelines on reducing indirect costs in secondary education.
Dr Kilemi Mwiria’s team recommended that needy students in secondary schools should get full bursary for four years with measures being put in place to identify eligible students.
This year, the government increased the free day secondary education money per student from Sh10,265 to Sh12,870.
The government spends Sh28 billion a year on subsidised secondary education and is targeting to make it free in four years.
According to Kenya Economic Report released late last year, high education costs have a significant and negative impact on access to schooling.
“School fees, for instance, reduces the probability of enrolment choice, especially among the low-income quintiles,” the report says, adding that policy interventions aimed at lowering the cost of education on households, including fee waivers for poor children would improve school participation.
On Friday, boda boda riders, Tharaka Singers and ‘Bunge la Mwananchi’ took the matter into their hands and raised fees for two needy students at Marimanthi Town in Meru.
They did so after a girl from Mithiga Village who had been admitted to Muthambi Girls’ High School but could not raise fees threatened to take poison.
The harambee raised more than Sh40,000. The money will be used to support the girl and another boy selected to join Meru School.