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Monday, 3 August 2020

Mass exit rocks 'international schools' as parents move to cheaper schools

Gems Cambridge International School Nairobi./COURTESY

High-end private schools are once again on the receiving end with reports of mass exit from the institutions as parents settle for middle-tier schools.

Insiders reveal that parents once willing to part way with up to Sh800,000 a term are going for schools that charge between Sh280,000 to Sh350,000 per term.

Schools began to shut down on March 15 and international and private institutions moved swiftly to launch online platforms to ensure continuity in teaching and learning.

Unlike the 8-4-4 education system, all these international systems will be beginning a new academic year in September 2020, virtually.

The education systems in the institutions vary from the British system popularly referred to IGCSE, to the American curriculum.

Also offered are the Swedish, French, German, Dutch, and Japanese curriculums.

With the extension of schools closure with an extra six months, the institutions have opted for a Plan B to avoid disruption.

But the cost of the highly touted virtual learning remains a ground for antagonism between the school and parents.

With hard economic times mixed with general disagreement on the fee charges, most parents are now settling for cheaper services presumed to be of the same quality.

One of the parents who sought anonymity told the Star explains that the problem is a lot of the people who send their children to these institutions fall in two categories:

The first is the self-paying lot who make up the majority of the institutions' clients. "They are the business people who have lost madly in the last six months," said the parent.

Insider information reveals that Brookhouse International School lost Sh300 million loss in the first three months of the pandemic.

"The people who are staying put have kids in their final 2/3 years but the middle school and early years have been greatly affected with the majority of parents seek less expensive options," the parent said.

The second, are those getting an educational package as part of their work deal. Similarly, most of such organisations have cut benefits rather than cut the salaries of these people.

For those enrolled in the British curricula, the school calendar runs between September to Mid December for term one.

The second term runs between January to end of March while Term Three is end of April or the beginning of May to end of June or early July.

The Americans operate a semester system and they have two of those with breaks but beginning in September.

Those who school their children at Banda pay at least Sh385,000 per term for children in Grade 1 - without online teaching. The 10 per cent reduction is about Sh40,000.

The fee rises as learners progress and those in the highest grades are required to pay Sh645,000 per term.

Christopher Banks, chairman of the Board of Governance of the Kenton College Preparatory School, in a letter dated April 9, announced the institution proposed a 25 per cent fee cut. 

The institution's fees are about Sh640,000 for Grade 3 learners and above, without the cuts.

Nairobi International Academy charges Sh474000 for those joining pre-primary one and one has to part with about Sh969,000 at Grade 12, a similar of form four in the 8-4-4.

Crawford International School, in the first year, charges Sh410,000 and tops Sh950,000 in Grade 12.

However, international schools defend the high costs proposed for online learning programmes while schools are closed due to the coronavirus crisis.

To fully address the issue, the Kenya Association of International Schools argues that the whole picture must be seen. The association prides itself on its members' ability to swiftly launch online programmes, notwithstanding the challenges caused by the coronavirus crisis.

Jane Mwangi, head of the association's secretariat, argues that above bridging the learning gap caused by school closure, the overhead cost of running the institutions remains the same.

“Enter the coronavirus phase, schools are closed yet required to deliver teaching and learning. International schools have risen to this challenge… but salaries, rent, loan commitments, electricity have remained the same,” Mwangi said in an email on Sunday.

Mwangi said the institutions have also chosen to retain all their employees, whether working or not, to cushion them against the Covid-19 crisis.

“Schools have all done the best they can and to ask more from them is, in essence, forcing them to shut down, and will cost some 400,000 Kenyans their jobs,” she said.

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