Addressing the Rising Cost of Secondary School Education in Kenya
By Janet Muthoni-Ouko, ElimuYetu Coalition, Kenya
Since 2013 the school fees charged by public secondary schools in Kenya have risen dramatically--- some schools charging up to USD 1200 per year. This cost was far beyond the reach of many Kenyans. Many children dropped out of school (Click here to view link) and the state of secondary education was seemingly operating like a private school with every head teacher setting their own levies. Some of the learners were reported to have offered to sell their kidneys in order to be able to raise school fees to join the national schools of their dreams (See link here).The government appeared to struggle in the face of what was considered a failure to enforce its own policies. For example, a 2009 policy that capped school fees at USD 322 had largely been ignored by school heads and some were now charging up to 4 times that. Secondary education was now unaffordable to many.
The ElimuYetu Coalition (EYC) began a campaign that was aimed at compelling the state to make sure that secondary school was affordable by controlling the levies charged at schools and increasing funding to the secondary school subsector.
EYC expected that the ministry would immediately correct school heads that were disregarding government directives and establish how much it can cost to educate a child in secondary school and set that particular cost for all to follow.
The coalition collected fee structures from various secondary schools and worked with national media houses to publicize the same. (Click here to view clip). The resultant was public uproar since it was clear that while some schools operated within a modest rate others were clearly fleecing parents. The public outrage was so much that the President commissioned a taskforce to, among others, establish how much it would cost to educate a child in a public secondary school. As the EYC National Coordinator, I was appointed to this taskforce.
The taskforce recommendation was to reduce school fees by half; something which powerful teacher unions and school heads associations vehemently opposed despite them having been members of the taskforce and endorsing the report. The unions’ influence on the sector was almost making it impossible for the minister to implement the report that was largely popular with Kenyans.
The Coalition collected up to 2000 signatures to Parliament to force them to call for the implementation of the task force report. (Click here to view link) and took to the streets in a major demonstration that involved over 1000 parents to force the minister to implement the findings of the task force. This caused issue (click here to watch video clip) when anti-riot police lobbed tear gas canisters against the media, parents and campaigners. I was arrested and later released on a cash bond.
The pressure from the demonstration saw the intervention of Members of Parliament who demanded that the Minister release guidelines to reduce fees or face a censure motion in Parliament (click here to view clip). The deputy president waded in and ordered the minister to create the guidelines in a week! (Click here to view link) The Cabinet Secretary was summoned to Parliament to give a status on the implementation of the taskforce report and to give guidance as to how he intends to ensure Kenyan children are not locked out of secondary schools due to lack of school fees.
In the end, the campaign to reduce secondary school feels by half was achieved due to advocacy efforts with communities and families, partnerships with other organizations and using tools like the media to share information. Consistency was essential to the success of this campaign as well—the coalition never wavered from message and stuck to the mission of making secondary education accessible to all.