The closure will force parents into the unenviable arduous task of searching for alternative schools for their children.
The last four months have been challenging for private schools as they have been starved of their main source of income (school fees) and their situation is expected to worsen in the coming six months. The ten-month closure will destroy careers and have a huge impact on families.
Hundreds of employees working in private schools have been forced to take salary cuts, ordered to take unpaid leave or laid off. While focus has mainly been on teachers, the auxiliary staff that includes drivers, cooks, cleaners, watchmen, caregivers and finance staff have lost their livelihoods as their services are no longer required with the learners away from school. It is estimated that private schools directly employ about 300,000 people.
“We don’t know what will happen. I don’t know how people will survive this crisis as only the staff deemed extremely essential are occasionally asked to go to carry out specific duties and are paid for days they work. The rest of us were forced to take leave in April,” a manager at a private school in Nairobi told the Sunday Nation.
Kenya Private Schools Association (KPSA) national secretary Charles Ochome said most private institutions are struggling to meet operational costs.
Parents who owe the institutions millions of shillings are withholding payments in a wait-and-see game due to the pandemic while others have already lost their jobs.
The proprietor of private schools are asking for Sh7 billion grant to pay teachers and maintain learning institutions.
“The Covid-19 pandemic came abruptly and we had to close schools. You know we cannot wait for parents to pay us so that we pay the teachers,” said Mr Ochome, who is also the director of Kisumu’s Golden Elites Academy.
The jobless teachers have taken up odd jobs, farming and businesses to make ends meet. Equally affected are teachers employed at public schools by the boards of management.
Apart from being unable to pay salaries, private school owners have to contend with the painful reality that next year, they will pay for new licences for their businesses despite this year having been wasted. Private schools must obtain business licences from county governments and also pay levies to the fire, health and hygiene departments.
“The county governments should support us by suspending the licences and activate them when schools reopen,” said Patrick Nyaga the director of Elite Heritage School in Chokaa, Nairobi. He said that despite collecting some money from parents who have enlisted their children for e-learning, it was too little to meet the expenses of the school.
“When e-learning was first introduced in schools, some parents were opposed to paying for it or they faced challenges acquiring the digital devices. There were also issues of access to and affordability of internet connectivity.”
With the opening date extended to January next year, the reality of the need to keep children engaged has sunk in for many parents. However, many parents’ incomes have dwindled owing to layoffs, salary cuts or reduced activity in their businesses. As such, fewer learners have subscribed for the lessons and some schools have had to review their fees to enhance access.
Mr Nyaga faulted Education CS George Magoha for directing that learners repeat classes next year instead of adjusting the school calendar to enhance transition and accommodate the new reality.
“The CS made a big mistake. We had already covered the work for first term for which parents paid fees. When schools reopen, learners should start with the work for second term. The academic year doesn’t have to start in January,” he said.
Some private schools are crippled by debt that they run the risk of closing down or having their assets auctioned. The Sunday Nation is aware of some schools that have been thrown out by landlords after defaulting on rent for the months.
“The landlords were willing to wait until June when schools were expected to open, then September but they now say that they cannot wait until January,” a source at one of the schools said.
In addition to rent, some school managements are struggling to repay bank loans and suppliers of various goods and services.
“The government needs to do something to save private schools as they offer a vital service to the nation,” Mr Nyaga said.
Knut secretary-general Wilson Sossion is on record opposing calls to bail out private schools noting they are private businesses.
The worst affected by the crisis are newly founded schools and the unregistered ones in informal settlements.
Hekima School head teacher Peter Okello said they are encouraging parents to enroll their children for online classes at a cost of Sh2,000 per month.
Mr Joseph Chacha of Soma Smart, an online learning platform, said it has made it possible for teachers to offer virtual classes.
The platform is loaded with contents of learners from pre-primary, lower primary, upper primary and secondary school students, he said.
Reported by David Muchunguh, Victor Raballa and Elizabeth Ojina
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