BY JOHN NDETA
Former President Mwai Kibaki introduced Free Primary Education and later on free tuition in public secondary schools when he took the reins of power under the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) Government in 2002.
This bold step against all odds rose to become the Kibaki administrations’ legacy that worked well until corruption and ineptness bugged the FPE scheme leading to withdrawal of funds by development partners. The resultant effect was that the Government of Kenya through its home revenue collections was to fill the gaps in free primary education and free tuition in public schools financing.
Thus far, the Government has tried but most schools attest to massive delays in disbursement of funds and a case in mind is a revelation that funds meant for second term in 2013 are still being disbursed in first term of 2014. It is this backlog that has orchestrated the heads of schools and schools management to come up with their own fee structures to cater for the shortfalls in Government funding; after all the schools have to keep running regardless of the delays in the Government disbursements.
In developed countries, every citizen pays tax and it is these revenues that are effectively made use of in terms of providing basic societal needs. Key among the basic needs is free access to medication, education, and proper infrastructure.
In Kenya, which is considered to be the most elaborate nation in terms of tax collection in sub-Saharan Africa, there is very little indeed to show for high taxations imposed on the citizenry.
How for instance can we explain the fact that joining form one at a public national school is attracting up to Sh100,000 in terms of school fees and shopping just for the first term? Are these public institutions minting money from parents or what is the intention of making it so expensive to join form one? And what does the monies collected from tax end up doing if not finance basics like education?
President Uhuru Kenyatta has come out to decry the hike in school fees but more needs to be done by the Ministry of Education officials to enforce a standardised fee guideline for various public schools.
Basic school needs like text books, furniture, games kits, and other utilities in the school need not to be loaded on parents. As a matter of fact, boarding fee may be manageable; tuition fee may have been scrapped off or catered for by the Government, but it is a host of other things like buying school bus, building a computer lap, paying for additional teachers and other non-teaching staff among others that make the school fees to skyrocket beyond what an average Kenyan can afford.
As a case study, I talked to a single parent X whose twin daughters sat for KCPE exams, both scored over 370 marks and all of them have secured admissions in one of the national school whose fees is nearly Sh90,000 . These amounts to Sh180,000 for the twin-sister to join form one and other basic shopping would obviously take the total costs to beyond Sh200,000.
Over and above that, the same parent X still has a form four candidate at a national school, has two children at a university who are self sponsored and all of them need fees. The least this parent may end up using in a span of three months is at least Sh500,000. Now, who in Kenya is able to raise this kind of money in just a span of three months?
The Government needs to review the cost of education in this country with the interest of the children and parents in mind so that the citizens are not being made to carry unbearable burdens. Other than the directives issued by the ministry in terms of fee structure that must be adhered to by school managers, there is need to ensure enough budgetary allocations to the education sector. This will assure school heads of sufficient funds to run institutions of learning and thus not load it over to the parents.
(The writer is media and communications consultant – firstname.lastname@example.org)