• Parents are in revolt over the unrealistic costs associated with virtual education for children out of school.
• They say the schools cannot provide art, drama, PE, field trips and other activities online, hence, the whole cost is greatly inflated and the product inadequate.
Parents at high-end private schools have challenged the huge fees institutions are charging to provide alternative online learning following the shutdown caused by the coronavirus.
Schools began to shut down on March 15 and international and private institutions moved swiftly to launch online platforms to ensure continuity in teaching and learning.
However, despite the schools' influence and apparent ability to deliver certain kinds of online learning, parents are alarmed by what they call the unrealistic cost of virtual education.
They also say it cannot substitute for a full curriculum that includes, art, drama, PE, field trips and other activities. Proposed cuts for distance learning are insignificant compared to the extremely high costs of private education, they say.
Bitange Ndemo, a lecturer at the University of Nairobi and a technology consultant, said online programmes are supposed to be less expensive, however, the costs can go up and vary greatly.
Parents offended by trifling cuts
Letters in the possession of the Star to various international schools show parents are more than a little disgruntled about the proposed costs and what they consider trifling cuts in already high private tuition costs.
The former PS at the ICT ministry said the main reason for higher online tuition are the added cost of online instruction and support services.
"Online programmes have many hidden, quite expensive costs that their face-to-face counterparts don’t. Among the most expensive is course design – literally building new courses with new types of engagements, conversations and assessments for online environments," Ndemo told the Star.
Letters in the possession of the Star sent to various international schools show parents are more than a little disgruntled about the proposed costs and what they consider trifling cuts in already-high private tuition costs.
A survey conducted by parents of Banda School in Karen, Nairobi, highlights the challenges parents have been facing since the launch of e-learning.
The survey from Sunday, April 12 to Monday, April 13, received 200 responses representing 321 pupils in nursery and primary school.
The school offered parents a 10 per cent fee reduction, which most parents said they "do not support and/or cannot afford."
Those who school their children at Banda pay at least Sh385,000 per term for children in Grade 1 - without online teaching. The 10 per cent reduction is about Sh40,000.
The fees rise as learners progress and those in the highest grades are required to pay Sh645,000 per term.
Many parents who send their children to private school - like many other parents - are economically bruised by the Covid-19 pandemic and are finding the basic costs increasingly difficult to meet.
In their survey recommendation, 78 per cent of Banda parents want the school to lower the cost of online learning by 40 to 50 per cent. They called the proposed fee cut negligible and said 40 to 50 per cent should be enough to cover costs.
Christopher Banks, chairman of the Board of Governance of the Kenton College Preparatory School, in a letter dated April 9 announced the institution proposed a 25 per cent fee cut.
The institution's fees are about Sh640,000 for Grade 3 learners and above, without the cuts.
Other institutions' proposing fee cuts for online learning include Cavina School, which is offering a 20 per cent cut in the coming term.
We are rather surprised at the speed with which you sent out fee notes at a time the country and the world as a whole are uncertain of how the next few months will play out. We found the timing quite insensitive.Rusinga Dads
Aga Khan Preparatory announced a 20 per cent cut while Braeburn offered a 50 per cent cut, with teachers taking a 15 per cent pay cut.
In Rusinga Schools Nairobi, the parents want a 50 per cent fee cut for learners in lower grades, a 45 per cent cut for those in middle grades and a 40 per cent cut for those in high school.
The parents argue that the operational costs of e-learning can adequately be supported by such cuts.
“We are rather surprised at the speed with which you sent out fee notes at a time the country and the world as a whole are uncertain of how the next few months will play out. We found the timing quite insensitive by the school administration,” the Rusinga Dads group wrote.
Nicholas Maiyo, chairman of the Kenya Parents Association, wants the government to step in and save parents in private schools from exploitation.
"There should be some reasonable middle ground... what is currently happening is that schools are taking advantage by doing slight adjustments and calling it fee cuts," Maiyo told the Star.
However, the Kenya Association of International Schools defends its members' proposals on fees and cuts, saying the institutions had made evaluations before settling on the proposed cuts.
“Each school has done a cost evaluation and what they are settling at is informed by experts, keeping in mind the parents are also in the pandemic... Nevertheless, schools negotiate, iron out grievances arising and find a middle ground,” Jane Mwangi of the Kais secretariat, told the Star on Sunday.
In the survey, the parents term virtual learning incapable of filling the gap left by the closure of schools.
The main concern lies in the extra cost of infrastructure required to adequately run e-learning and the deep parental engagement required for it to work - not all parents have the time.
Those in international schools are from the 'Haves' and there are also 'Have nots'. Governent must look for a way both children can access education.NIcholas Maiyo, Parents Association chairman
The surveyed parents also complain about the lack of important elements in education such as art, drama, PE and working together.
While appreciating the hard work that has been put into this … only 18 per cent of respondents in the Banda Upper School found it adequate, " the survey reads.
Maiyo, the parents association chairman, sought government support in rolling out a national e-learning platform that can be utilised by both private and public institutions.
He also called for reduced data tariffs and offline options on learning platforms to ensure easier access.
"Those in international schools are from the 'Haves' end of the society and there are also the 'Have nots'," Maiyo said. "The government must look for a way both children can access education."