There is no gainsaying that 2020 has been the hardest year for many people. Covid-19 has had devastating effects on the world economy and many people will continue to experience the ripple effects for some time.
From the loss of employment to the closure of businesses, many people have to readjust their lives as they find their footing within the new realities that they find themselves.
In Kenya, some of the hardest hit businesspeople were those in the private learning institutions. The continued closure of schools inevitably led to loss of revenue for the proprietors, with some schools resorting to alternative businesses that saw some playgrounds turn into vegetable gardens and classrooms into chicken coops in a desperate attempt to keep their staff working.
Despite these attempts, however, many private schools could not sustain their operations, with the Kenya Private Schools Association estimating in July that over 100 private schools might not resume learning when schools reopen in 2021. What this means is that many parents will have to look for alternative schools for their children.
Unfortunately, with the massive job losses and drastic reduction in revenue across many households, it is likely that many parents will be looking to downgrade their lifestyles and, moving children from private to public schools will most likely be the first move.
Many people who had hitherto worked in the private schools as teachers and support staff had to relocate to their rural homes to await better days. Those who remain in towns may have to move to low-income areas. This could also mean their children will need to join the local schools.
Unfortunately, there are not enough public schools to accommodate all the children who might need to change schools. Ministry of Education statistics indicate a higher growth rate for private schools as compared to that of public schools, with the number of private schools growing from 7,742 to over 16,000 between 2014 and 2020.
Public schools only increased by 1,728 from 21,718 to 23,446 over the same period. Many parents especially in urban areas do not have too many public schools from which to choose.
Perhaps the worst hit are children in towns. A story by Mercy Adhiambo seen by newspost team illustrates the plight of many parents, especially in Nairobi.
A parent from Kayole slums interviewed in the story lamented that there was no public school within a reasonable distance and that parents had been making donations to help pay their children’s school’s watchman and cleaners in a desperate attempt to keep it operational. The city county has many mushrooming private primary schools, with a growth rate of 12 per cent against public schools’ 3.2 per cent.
Most parents in slum areas live below the poverty line and can barely afford school fees. Consequently, many of the private schools in the slums of major towns were operating on very tight budgets and effects of Covid-19 only made things worse.
Despite their financial challenges, private schools come in handy in complementing the government’s efforts to ensure equitable access to quality basic education for the country’s children.
The August 2020 announcement by Education Cabinet Secretary that the government would provide concessional loans to private schools with the capacity to pay it back was a welcome move.
However, many private schools serving the poor slum dwellers may not have the capacity to repay the loans, their concessionality notwithstanding.
Based on need, the government could consider extra measures for such schools including, for example, providing them with contract teachers for a period to supplement their teaching staff until they get back on track financially. There is need to build many more public schools within the areas to provide parents with alternatives.
Capable individuals as well as religious and humanitarian organisations operating in the slums should mobilise resources and provide grants and other technical aid to enable the small private schools get back in business to save the children the agony of further missing out on basic education for lack of schools.