A popular meme on WhatsApp goes like, “You ain’t seen anything till you’re removed from a WhatsApp group while typing.” Well, I recently was, though that doesn’t make it my worst ever moment.
I had been arguing with fellow members of our rural public primary school’s alumni WhatsApp group. The aim of the group was, generally, networking by reconnecting for the common good but particularly to mobilise resources to reawaken the giant.
I was actually removed twice: Removed by one administrator, reinstated by another and then removed for good by the former. I didn’t protest; the reason for it was overwhelmingly against me. My troubles began when I broached the contentious topic of teacher “motivation”. I put it straight to the group that forcing parents to pay a cabal to “motivate” them to teach was criminal and immoral.
The aggressive proponents, who seem to be covert beneficiaries, argued that the teachers needed extra time to cover the syllabus, meaning they would put in more hours than they are required to. I retorted that if the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) cannot give schools a manageable syllabus, it should be dissolved for being irrelevant. The unions should sue the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) if the tutors are overworked, I added.
Why should we pay someone to do what they are paid to do, I posed. Then I asked why I am not “motivated” yet I’m a worker too. And why are watchmen, cooks, cleaners, drivers and all other cadres not “motivated” as well?
My anger at this extortion had been boiling over the years. At my daughter’s former primary school, also a public one, we would be asked during parents’ days to “motivate” teachers. We would circle a carton placed in the middle of the room as we sang and danced while dropping banknotes into it, a la church offertory.
But I would, after some years, take my sister to a storied national public school, where I didn’t expect such practices. Shockingly, it is even worse here. Parents have formed a club of sorts for every stream, complete with an elected “class rep”. At our induction meeting, we were told it was meant to be a link between parents and the school administration but, to me, it is an extortion ring.
Some “super parents” then suggested that we pay Sh3,000 for every child in the class, per term, for “rewarding” the girls who perform well and “motivate” teachers. Well, we all did the first term and some Good Samaritans among us bought vital equipment.
It is good when parents join hands to ease their children’s learning – government school status notwithstanding. But many parents can hardly raise school fees and are overburdened. Many students are sponsored because they are orphans or their parents are too poor to afford the fees. How do you demand unnecessary extra money from such people?
The class rep has now turned to naming and shaming the ‘defaulters’, posting a list of what has been paid for whom. That not only stigmatises and demoralises the girls but also demeans their parents or guardians. And extortion doesn’t end there; look at school trips and “fun days”.
At my daughter’s former school aforementioned, there is a time we paid Sh5,000 per pupil for a three-day trip to Nakuru, from Embu. The girls visited the national park and two or three more places. But then, they travelled by school buses, packed like sardines (forgive the cliché), slept at a local school and were fed chips, bread and soda. We had been told to give them pocket money for snacks and photos. You can do the math.
The other day, Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha was reported as having commented on such exploitation of parents. However, I found his reaction a bit lukewarm. He said parents who can afford it should fund such schemes but no one should be forced to pay up.
What the CS doesn’t know is that parents do not have a choice; you either pay or pay. For the trips and fun days, teachers get tricky – like advising the pupils to cry if their parents do not pay up! Some schools even take all the students for the trip and record it as a fees balance.
The Ministry of Education regulates school fees and nobody should charge any money above the stipulated amounts.
Why these levies, then? And are there no guidelines for trips – their cost, frequency and even destination? Parents are looking up to Prof Magoha to immediately crack down on school administrators either charging or condoning these illegal levies. The cost of living is high enough without the forced expenditure.
Before I am removed from the other WhatsApp group, and if the CS does not act in good time, I advise fellow parents in a similar predicament as me to pay the money alright. But then, let us do it at exactly 5pm on September 30 – in the old Sh1,000 notes.
Mr Marete is the Opinion Editor, Daily Nation. [email protected] @MwitiMarete