Kudos to Education cabinet secretary Fred Matiang’i for stamping his foot down on school fees and other auxiliary charges levied in public schools.
For once, parents will take their children to form one without suffering the shock of hidden charges. But even then, some parents are likely to lose sight of the shillings and cents and go on spending sprees in the name of taking their children to secondary school in their joy of this academic transition. Heck, this is a milestone for many a parent especially those whose first born children is joining secondary school. Therefore, they are likely to ignore the fine print in admission letters or take a second thought on the items that various schools demand. But with skillful scrutiny and buying, they can save a modest amount of cash during this exercise.
Instead of a parent who lives in, say, Busia county taking his or her child to a school in Kwale county, a less expensive option would be to consider a day or mission schools in his or her vicinity. In government day schools, books and tuition are greatly subsidised under the free secondary education programme. In mission schools, the fees and other requirements may be reasonable.
Many parents are often carried away by the excitement of their children’s progressing to high school and have no control on what is to be bought. Often, some children demand a total overhaul of their wardrobes with unnecessary things like dozens of underwear, sports kits and new shoes.
There have been cases where some children, seizing the generous moment, have demanded for touch screen mobile phones, wrist watches, thermos flasks, packets of sugar and tins of cocoa, blue band margarine, expensive toiletries and even beauty makeovers. All these side buys can easily amount to an extra and unplanned Sh100,000. Unless you stamp down your foot, such superfluous expenditures will push up the initial estimates of taking your child to secondary school and could even eat into the actual school fees that you have set aside.
So if you are about to take a child to form one, be brutally honest with yourself and scrutinise every little and innocuous demand. Joining a new school need not be a justification for your child’s change in social class at the cost of domestic penury for the next four years!
Many schools often send a list of things that new students should bring. Incidentally, I am yet to come across any institution that categorically demands that these items must be spanking new. Such items include mugs, plates and spoons. Others are blankets, bed sheets, towels, bath sandals and so on.
By taking from home what is available a student can considerably cut down on the overall cost of joining form one. I have in mind some personal effects like mirrors, combs, shoe brushes and toothbrushes. These items may look insignificant, until you add up the amount of money required to buy them afresh.
Books can be purchased from one shop where a discount can be negotiated. Alternatively, they can be sourced from second hand dealers or friends who have already completed secondary school. Unless specified that the school uniform must be bought from the school, shop around for the best bargain. There are some brands of canvas shoes that are popular with students, toughees, because of their durability. Every parent must go for these instead of fancy designs that may be expensive in the long run. Where demanded, parents must ensure that their children’s mugs and plats are plastic, and therefore unbreakable. Metal boxes for putting in all these things can be bought from Jua Kali artisans. They are sturdier and will serve the purpose better and longer than the expensive travelling bags with wheels that some parents often buy for their children in up market bazaars.
Despite the admission letters clearly stating that the passport photos of the new students must be certified by their former head teachers, many parents “forget” this all important instruction. No secondary school will accept a new form one student without his or her signed and stamped passport photos. This is the only traceable, official and tamper proof evidence that the KCPE candidates in question is the right one, who scored the said marks, and got the invite to join the correct secondary school. Many mesmerised parents continue to pay for this ultimate oversight by criss-crossing the country back to where they come from before their children can join form one.
Kariuki teaches at Nyandarua high school, Ol Kalou