Based on a true story

Imagine that you are the primary income generator for your family.  Perhaps your wife/husband earns some income, but the majority of your family’s financial and nutritional sustenance comes from your efforts.  While 75% of your fellow Kenyans toil away on one of the massive farming companies in Kenya (est. 2008) for minimal income, you are lucky enough to have started your own restaurant and to be working for yourself.  Unfortunately for you, business isn’t exactly lucrative. Your small restaurant only serves the basic of Kenyan dishes (i.e. boiled cabbage, beans, ugali, ect), and barely earns more than 50 KSh (70 cents CAD) per customer.  With a family to feed and other expenses you earn just enough to get by.  At least you are not one of the 50% of Kenyans who live below the poverty line (2000 est).  However, you are also not too far off of the $1700 CAD average income in Kenya.

Lucky for you, however, you happen to have very intelligent children who show a lot of academic potential.  One of your children in particular (let’s call her Jane) managed to obtain impressive marks on her grade 8 examination test.  In fact, her grades were so good that she got accepted into one of the prestigious provincial school.  There is no doubt that the school that Jane attends will either open or close doors for her in the future, and that the provincial school is far superior to a regular district school.  Better government support, better resources, and often better quality of education; this is the only place for Jane to be.

The only problem is that the school charges approximately 40, 000KSh ($470CAD)  for tuition each year, and that doesn’t even include the additional 10,000 KSh ($117CAD) for uniforms, an ID badge, as well as other additional expenses.  There is no way that your small restaurant will be able to earn the required funds to pay for such a high tuition.  Keep in mind that you also have another daughter in a different district school and all of the associated costs.  Despite the fact that you have no real means to afford such an expense, you will not skimp out on your daughter’s education and you send her to the expensive provincial school anyways.  What good father/mother wouldn’t, right?

Jane excels in her new environment as soon as she arrives.  Her first report card shows impressive marks, achieving an A in some courses, and she has been selected as the class prefect.  At this rate she will graduate from high school with top marks, get accepted into a good university AND likely be eligible for government post-secondary financial aid.  You can see her future success on the horizon.  Then one day you get a text message asking you to attend a parent-teacher meeting at the school.  However, you know that the real topic for discussion is your outstanding debt of 12,000KSh ($141CAD) for tuition that term.  You are reluctant to go, but accepting that you have no option in the matter, and make the journey.

You arrive back in Kakamega with Jane at your side.  As you suspected, the school wanted to know how you were going to pay the tuition, and having no viable solution you and Jane are sent away until one can be found.  Lost in despair, you mention your dilemma to your church preacher.  Unannounced to you, a fundraising drive is conducted on your behalf and your congregation is able to raise almost 8000 KSh ($94CAD) for Jane’s tuition, just enough to enable to return to her studies.  You still have no idea how you will raise the money for the next bill, but you decide to worry about that later.

Now, before you demonize the school for such a seemingly heartless decision, that being to suspend Jane over financial constraints, consider what it is schools like this are faced with.  Jane is by no means the only student at the school that owes tuition fees.  Rather, it is the majority of students that owe some kind of outstanding fees and the minority that have actually paid off all of their debts.  Also consider that many of these students don’t owe simply a few hundred bob.  Some owe up 50,00KSh ($588CAD) in outstanding tuition and additional expenses, with most owing slightly less.  It is a fact that some schools are facing almost 1 million KSh ($11700 CAD) in outstanding tuition fees from the student body as a whole.

There shouldn’t be a problem here, right, as the government provides subsidies for all students looking to attend secondary school.  The idea was to provide a certain amount of money to a school for each student registered, thus enabling more student s to continue their studies.  This would be all well and fine if the government were reliable in sending these payments.  Instead, however, the government subsidies come in sporadic amounts, usually far less than what was promised, and often arriving very much later than had been expected.

So with unreliable government support and students not paying their tuition, how is a school supposed to maintain its services and facilities?  The food is not free, but the entire student body requires the daily beans and maize to fuel their hungry minds.  The electricity (if the school has it) will be shut off if you don’t pay the monthly bill, leaving the students and teachers in the dark.  As well, you can forget about any kind of renovations or repairs to the school if there is no budget for it.  If a school is not able to afford the basics then the education received by the students will suffer.

So you have to go after the parents.  You can’t allow these debts to go unpaid, to simply forget about the money.  If not, where is the incentive for parents to pay up?  The school will gradually run out of resources, services will diminish in quality, and ultimately the education and well being of all students will suffer.  Something has to be done.

The faculty and administration in these schools appreciates the difficult situation that many of these parents face, and they do attempt to help them out in any way that they can.  Aside from prolonging the debt repayments, it isn’t uncommon for the teachers to pool together some money to purchase uniforms, books, or school supplies for students in specific cases.  In some very special cases a teacher might even let a student live with them in their house on the school compound.  This is very rare but has occurred when a teacher just couldn’t bear to see the students gifts wasted by going back home.

When the school is faced with no other option but to collect its money from the parents there are many ways to go about this.  A school might task its Parent-Teacher Association to go after it’s fellow parents to settle their outstanding debts.  Sometimes a student’s final KCSE results will be held until all debts are settled, essentially disallowing the student to officially graduate from high school.  The most drastic, and always the last resort, is for the school to send that student home until they can return with their tuition fees.  This is final option is never desirable and is avoided as best as possible.

This is because the teachers and administration know that there can be huge repercussions for a student if such a decision is made.  There is a myriad of temptation and commitments that might easily see to it that the suspended student never returns to the classroom.  You might find that a parentdecide to pull one student out of school in order to afford for the other to remain.  A parent in this kind of financial straits might decide that their child should be working to earn an income rather than to be sitting in a classroom.  Then, of course, there are the many temptations that any pubescent child might have when it comes to sex and relationships.  This is not only a struggle for non-enrolled students but also for enrolled students, and is often one of the main reasons that a student does not return to the classr4oom.  One bad decision can permanently change a student’s future forever.

And therein lies the eternal struggle.  Many parents will always try to hold off the inevitable, while the schools are just simply trying to run a quality educational facility, and trapped in the middle of all this is the student.  This young teen wants nothing more than to be given an opportunity to realize their dreams and to improve their condition, and if the many external factors don’t prevent this from happening they will move on to bigger and better things.  At least here’s hoping.



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