Principals struggle to run boarding schools over high cost of food

The skyrocketing cost of food and other essential supplies is posing a challenge to boarding schools, with principals struggling to run the institutions amid a shortage of cereals in the country.

With the little resources available, the situation has forced some of principals to suspend other commitments and focus only on food items and electricity.

A number of school heads said the recent increase in the cost of sugar and electricity, scarcity of maize and beans coupled with inability by parents to clear fee arrears is a big headache.

Early this month, the Ministry of Education directed school heads to update student details in NEMIS, a move that was seen as a delaying tactic in the remittance of capitation.

Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) has warned that some schools could be grounded if the government does not release funding soon.

“Learning institutions are currently sustained by the mercies of suppliers of goods and services. Their patience is running out due to accumulated bills,” said Mr Paul Rotich, the Nandi County Kuppet secretary.

Mr Rotich said some schools owed suppliers and subordinate staff millions of shillings.

“Food prices have escalated. A 50kg bag of sugar now retails at Sh10,000, 90kg bag of maize at Sh7,500 and in some cases suppliers are demanding payment on delivery,” said one principal.

“Parents are also financially strained, and our school has fees arrears of Sh20 million. The government has disallowed interference in learning by sending students home for fees. We recently asked parents to bring food items for fees, but it was not forthcoming,” said another school head.

Riokindo Boys High School Principal Gerald Orina said the high cost of living had not spared learning institutions.

“Parents are feeling the heat. We are collecting less than 20 per cent of the fees and still, we can’t send away these students. We are forced to only give students specific services that are key in their learning process.”

According to Mr Orina, the Government should consider giving out grants. 

Mr Obed Ondieki, a parent in Kisii Central, complained that they had been forced to pay extra tuition fees.

He said they paid Sh1,000 as holiday tuition, dubbed “‘re-capitation”, in the last academic year and the school’s Parents Teachers Association agreed that they increase this to Sh1,500.

“It looks like a small amount but it is strenuous for the poor parent who might be having more than three children in different schools. The government needs to find a way of reducing the cost of living.”

Ms Joyce Orioki, the principal of Nyabururu Girls School, said fee payment was at 30 per cent. “We used to hit 70 per cent almost at the same period in previous years. No parent is ready to receive his or her daughter back home.”

Ms Orioki, who is also the chairperson Kisii County Secondary School Heads Association, said learning institutions are running with huge debts.  

“We are procuring commodities at four to five times higher prices than what we had budgeted for. We have goods like cereals whose prices have gone up by nearly 120 per cent.”

She explained that even if parents paid school fees in full, the institutions would still be in debt. 

In the Mt Kenya region, some suppliers have stopped delivering goods. Most schools in the region had budgeted for a 90kg of maize at Sh3,500, but it’s now selling at Sh7,500.

Some school heads said they planned to get a bag of beans at Sh6,000, bbut it’s now selling Sh15,000. Printing papers  are now selling at Sh750, up from about Sh400, while sugar is now going for Sh10,500, up from Sh5,060.

“The contracted traders have stopped delivering goods, forcing the schools to look for others willing to wait longer for payment,” said Muthithi Secondary School in Kirinyaga, the principal, Njenga Gathige.

At Njiri Boys High School, Principal Gibson Mwangi said even the money provided for in the fees guideline will not be enough.

At Njumbi High School, the Principal Fredrick Murage said the electricity bill increased from Sh120,000 to Sh280,000 per month. 

In South Rift, a principal who did not wish to be named said they had accumulated a debt of over Sh12 million.

“School solely depends on the food money from parents. However, the majority of them have paid below Sh5,000. Some have not paid for anything this year,” said the teacher.

The principal noted that the government provides a capitation of Sh22,000 per student but claimed it is not enough to sustain schools.

At the same time, an acute shortage of cereals that has hit Nakuru, Narok and Nyandarua counties in the last two weeks, has pushed prices to the highest levels ever.

In the western region, the situation is the same. The principal of Bishop Abiero Mixed Secondary School, Kennedy Oguta, said they are growing some foodstuff to cut costs.

“I have embarked on planting kales to try and solve the situation,” said Oguta.

A section of parents in Kakamega complained some schools were demanding a ream of printing papers every term.

“I pay Sh650 for a ream paper now, which was Sh500, and the school has made it mandatory for students,” she said.

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