The thrust of the concern of secondary school principals is inadequate financing and teacher shortage that threaten to denigrate quality of education.
However, the Education ministry and the government at large, while acknowledging the challenges, seem not to appreciate the urgency to tackle them.
This is the message running through the Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association Conference that started on Monday in Mombasa and ends tomorrow.
Schools are reeling under huge debts and have to make do with worryingly few teachers.
This is a consequence of poor policies, some driven by populist political considerations as well as lack of planning.
First is policy, and herein are several issues to canvass. One is the cap on school fees, with the government having decreed in 2014 that the highest amount schools can charge is Sh53,000 a year.
That was five years ago. For all practical reasons, the figure was arrived at with several assumptions, among them that the government would provide all teachers and heavily subsidise secondary education.
However, the government subsidy, which was enhanced two years ago, stands at Sh22,000 a student per year. But it is neither adequate nor, troublingly, disbursed on time.
Considering that inflation has risen drastically, the designated amount cannot run schools and, consequently, most of them run on debt and cannot meet their financial obligations.
Services have gone down and students’ welfare, mainly food and accommodation, severely compromised.
Add to this inadequate infrastructure, including hostels, dining halls, classrooms and laboratories. This does not augur well for quality education.
Second is poor planning, resulting in chronic and biting teacher shortage.
By its own admission, the Teachers Service Commission requires 87,393 teachers to meet the shortfall — half of these in secondary schools, whose problem has been exacerbated by the new policy of 100 per cent transition.
The gravity of the matter is manifested at the school level, where, head teachers say, every institution has an average deficit of six teachers.
They are, therefore, forced to employ teachers outside the budgetary allocation.
This is why we do not agree when Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha says schools should not raise fees while at the same time ruling out additional government subsidies.
Schools cannot run like that; it’s a recipe for disaster. We need a candid discussion on the funding of secondary education, teacher recruitment and deployment and related policies to guide teaching and quality standards.
To this end, the government must conduct a fresh survey to determine the unit cost of providing secondary education and allocate resources appropriately to plug deficits.