Find out why guidelines on fees are not working

Wednesday January 6 2016

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The outrage over the high fees that public secondary schools are charging is understandable but is neither new nor surprising.

For more than a decade, the government has been issuing fee guidelines that are routinely disregarded and dismissed with contempt and impunity.

Last year, the then Education Cabinet secretary, Prof Jacob Kaimenyi, issued guidelines based on the recommendations of a task force that had been appointed in 2013 to review and advise on a new fee structure.

Like before, the fresh guidelines that capped the fees at Sh53,000 for boarding schools were thrown out by headteachers and school boards.

In principle, the reason for setting fee guidelines is to create sanity in the financing of secondary education.

Left to their whims, schools would charge outrageous figures that would lock out many children from secondary education.

Yet both the Constitution and the Education Act provide for compulsory basic education for all children. This comprises primary and secondary schooling.

There must be a reason the guidelines are ignored.

First, the prescribed figures are unrealistic.

Schools operate under different conditions, hence it is untenable to fix a common figure and expect it to work across the board.

Second, the guidelines are made on the assumption that other variables are constant: that the government is providing sufficient capitation grants and on time, that commodity prices never increase, and that schools have enough teachers as well as facilities.

This is never the case. The government hardly ever disburses the grants on time.

Worse, schools have a deficit of more than 20,000 teachers, so they have to recruit and pay tutors.

There is never a candid discussion about school fees.

Instead of issuing decrees, the government must examine why the guidelines are never acted upon and devise a more realistic approach of fixing the figures and enforcing compliance.