As the clock ticks closer to January 4, when all schools are expected to open doors for resumption of studies after months of Covid-19 precipitated break, confusion continues to reign as a number of private schools were closed down permanently over financial challenges.
Public schools are expected to bear the brunt of a population influx as most learners have started seeking admissions in the learning institutions.
Recent statistics by Kenya Private Schools Association (KPSA) shows that over 330 private schools across the country have closed shop leaving a population of 55,000 students muddled on where to seek alternative education avenues.
KPSA CEO Peter Ndoro, says 1,200 teaching staff have been directly affected in the process.
“We have advised the 331 institutions that have shut down to communicate to parents on the need to look for alternative schools.
We hope to distribute learners to other private schools with low population, but if they decide to move to public schools, then we expect overcrowding,” he told Scholar on phone.
In Mwiki ward in Ruiru, Kiambu county, 50 per cent of formerly existing 39 private primary schools have closed down.
Most of the institutions that closed down were either operating on rented spaces, such as apartments and undeveloped land, but could no longer sustain rent payment since Covid-19 struck.
In the remaining private institutions, parents have withdrawn their children leaving impractically two to five learners.
Interestingly, the entire ward has only one public institution, Mwiki Primary School that hosts a population of 3,600 pupils.
According to the school headteacher, Joseph Kamau, learners from private schools have started seeking admission at the already congested institution.
To effectively admit all the current learners without exposing them to the deadly virus as proposed by the Ministry of Education, the institution will require at least 140 classes more, their limited space notwithstanding.
“A crisis will be inevitable since we have no additional classes. We currently have only 41 classes.
To meet the Covid-19 design of accommodating only 20 learners per class, we will require 140 more classrooms,” said Kamau.
“We have space for 23 more classrooms so long as they will be high rise buildings.
If that happens, we can organise our teachers to teach in shifts and that way, we will have stalled a possibility of any learner being blocked from learning,” he added.
Most of the thriving private schools are either on their own land and a few others continue to survive on loans from financial institutions.
Springs School in Gilgil is one such institution that continues to fight for existence despite the reeling economic shockwaves.
According to its director Monica Kimani, the institution that stands on its own piece of land has enough classes and has several other structures being put up to host even a higher number of learners.
“If I had enough money to complete the unfinished classes, the return of learners to school will find our institution ready to host more pupils,” she said.
In Nakuru county, Serenity Preparatory School in Gilgil has not opened its doors since its closure in March.
Registered candidates were advised to look for alternative schools to continue with their studies and later sit for exams at a venue to be arranged later.
The school’s proprietor Dr Elizabeth Mumbi Koimett said they were unable to foot piling rent and were forced to vacate the premises.
“We were relying 100 per cent on student’s fees to run our operations, and with skyrocketing bills, we had to close shop,” said Dr Koimett.
Sadly, according to her, they had hoped that the government would cushion them, but the ministry has not been clear on how they will be rescued, especially those with registered candidates.
“There is some insincerity in government on the whole issue,” she cried adding that more than 300 students will be forced to seek alternative schools.
At the Eagle Apex Hill School in Subukia, the institution is operating on a skeleton mode with workers being recalled in shifts.
The school’s proprietor Peter Kibunja said they will be assessing the situation, but remains hopeful that operations will get back to normal noting that they are currently on a loss and outsourcing funds to run the school, which is pushing them to more debt.
In Nyanza, Migori county director of Education Elizabeth Otieno says several private schools in the county, especially the small ones are likely to be thrown into reopening dilemma due to inability to sustain their operations.
Consequently, she says, the schools could continue to struggle running their programmes upon full learning resumption in January amid the pandemic effects.
She points out that though no Migori private schools have shutdown operations, the institutions are going through financial crisis that followed months of suspended learning.
The Kenya Private Schools Association (KPSA) national secretary Charles Ochome concurs, saying private schools are likely to plunge into further financial crisis when schools reopen for other classes if they fail to get the nod of the government over earlier requested funding.
Ochome, who is also the director of Kisumu’s Golden Elites Academy, says proprietors of a number of private learning institutions are also experiencing challenges preparing for full learning resumption because of financial limitations.
“Currently, most school owners have been forced to use money from their own pockets to sustain their activities.
We implore the government to accept our request of the stimulus package funds to help institutions stay afloat,” he urged.
In August, private schools had sought Sh7 billion grant from the government to cushion them from the pandemic impact.
The grant was to support infrastructural development of at least 3000 private schools in readiness for schools reopening next months and availed at an interest rate of between 2.5 and 3.5 per cent and which was to support areas such as installation of ICT systems to ensure learning continues .
According to KPSA Mombasa chairman Omari Mbuli, apart from some schools being forced to shut down completely, others have had their property auctioned to recover debt owed to creditors.
He confirmed that about 52 private schools did not open their doors during the first phased reopening, while 300 others are on the verge of shutting down, citing economic sustainability challenges posed by Covid-19.
“Mombasa county has 1,326 private schools, out of those, 52 of them did not open when government announced partial reopening, and if the government will not bail out these institutions, 300 more schools will completely shut down by January leaving about 4,000 learners in the cold,” Mbuli said.