School principals must exercise patience over fees
Schools re-open today for the second term. Thousands of students will be going back to school across the country. Schools were on holiday for barely a week.
The genesis of this crash programme is the almost nine months that learners stayed at home starting March 2020, when the government closed all schools, because of Covid. The schools were fully reopened only last January.
The government made the decision that the country had to recover the lost time so that the school calender could normalise.
This means, for 2021 and 2022, an extra term was packed into each calender year. Instead of the usual three terms, each year now has four.
Holidays after each term are now a maximum of two weeks, instead of the normal one month.
This has wreaked havoc financially on parents, who used to have a whole month to put together the finances they needed to pay fees once schools reopen.
Worse, for the next two years, parents will pay fees four times a year, rather than the normal thrice. The financial distress this has visited on parents is beyond endurance.
So, as students return to class this week, parents are at the end of their wits. There’s a huge collective anxiety by parents about how their children will return to school.
Worse, private schools have refused to adjust fees to reflect the shorter terms. Some terms have been reduced by almost half.
The argument that they suffered because of the time they were closed surely fails to recognise parents equally went through very difficult times.
As schools reopen, fees will be the foremost demand by schools, as normally happens. But these are not normal times.
The country will only manage to get through this tough Covid period if all parties help each other out.
School principals must, therefore, act with utmost restraint when it comes to enforcement of payment of fees.
Before Covid, the time honoured, and universally accepted, mode of enforcement of fees payment was sending students with fees arrears home.
In this intervening period of the crushed academic calender, principals really must only send students home over fees as a last resort.
They must appreciate any efforts being made by parents in making even partial fee payments.
This is the only way schools and parents will get across to the other side — return to normalcy — in one piece.
There is not going to be an alternative in the very economically strained times the country is going through.
As for parents, they must internalise that schools need the money paid as fees because they are seriously constrained for funding. They must prioritise fees in their budgets.
The government has given parents in public schools a reprieve by adjusting fees in public secondary schools to reflect the shorter terms.
In a move meant to further cushion parents, the government released Sh17.5 billion for capitation funding last week. This was meant to ensure schools have money before the term begins.
Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha said the move was meant to give principals cash to operate the schools so that they do not have to send students away because schools have no money to run.
This was a recognition that schools will struggle to collect fees this term.
The government needs to give the private schools a boost, too. It had promised to set up a Sh7 billion fund that will offer concessional loans to assist private schools tackle the Covid pandemic challenges. It must live up to its promise, urgently.
Such will go a long way in assisting fund private schools who are struggling to stay afloat, or are struggling to collect fees from broke parents, or want to reopen but lack the cashflow to jumpstart their operations.
The fund would go a long way in giving private schools more leeway to accord parents greater latitude when it comes to fee payments.
Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani, needs to do his bit to assist schools ease the burden on parents. — [email protected]