Last week I wrote a blog post about child poverty in urban Kenya, my observations from years of community engagement in Mukuru and a few suggestions on what can be done. I got great responses on the text, thanks everyone! Keep spreading the link and sending me your comments.
In this post I want to dive deeper into the cost of providing a child with secondary education. The aim is to inform all who are interested and to document my experience for those planning to start this rewarding endeavour.
I’m going to show how incredibly expensive it is and how the current system affects especially vulnerable children (which I defined in the former post). Most of this will feel informative to foreigners and will sound familiar to Kenyans. Often though even locals are surprised at the cost and awful logistics around Secondary Education.
At the bottom of this post I’ll break down how providing a child with simple secondary education and extremely basic nutrition and clothing easily costs over 1000 USD (100,000 KES) per year (using 2014 data).
- Short-notice admission – Now how it works is that you get the admission letter from the Secondary School only mid January and the deadline for payment is around 10 days later. For vulnerable children in specific, this is challenging, as most donors and sponsors (local or international) will only start considering to support a child after seeing the letters.
- Distance – Cost of schooling in Nairobi is very high and the chances of being admitted to Nairobi day schools are lower, too. When submitting the list of schools they’d prefer to attend, our children therefore tick boarding schools in the rural areas. So most of our children attend schools between 4-10 hours travel away from Nairobi. I believe the emotional impact is high. Having lost parents and guardians when young and now deciding to live away from friends and trusted teachers who effectively brought up the child. Financially speaking this means they have to travel 12 times a year (to and fro for every of the 3 terms and in the half-term breaks). It also means that to attend the annual ‘parents day’ our volunteers incur costs, too.
- Transport costs – Gas prices tend to go up and down around high travel seasons in Europe. We all know this is an effect of the local market, not actually the global oil price. In Kenya traditionally around the christmas season the bus tickets get more expensive and this “tradition” has now extended to the opening and closing dates of schools. Since night bus travel has been outlawed in Kenya (at the point of writing), the prices have again increased.
- Inflation – When our first two kids were admitted to secondary schools in 2011, their fees were around 300 Euros annually each. Of course, there were additional costs of buying a school uniform and other items. Now fees have nearly doubled, also owing to increase in food costs and teachers salaries. While this is a natural turn of things, it doesn’t help low-income parents or guardians to send their children to school.
- In-transparent fees – Some schools’ fee breakdown includes things like “bus maintenance fee”, “holiday tuition”, “award money”. Rarely accountability is provided; we have yet to see a bus, any holiday tuition or the impact of an award.
- Additional expenses – The food provided in the schools is really basic and children are expected to carry some pocket money to pimp their meals (e.g. buy sugar locally for example for breakfast tea). You’ll also want to think of renewing clothing, getting additional books to support practice etc.
This picture shows an approximate breakdown of costs for a child to start in 2015, quoted in Kenyan Shilling.
Every year in Upendo, we have at least 10 graduates who have good enough grades to attend Secondary School. We have been able to find sponsors for 2-3 graduates in the last 4 years.
Please get in touch if you would like to help in 2015! The costs are high but the outcome very rewarding. You can mobilize family, friends or colleagues to cater for a child together.
“And what happens to the others” you may ask. Every year we also have a couple of graduates, who are talented in working with crafts and have interests in learning tailoring, carpentry or other vocational skills. For example two girls started a 3-year tailoring course with an organization. If you would like to find out how to support our graduates in learning these skills and starting up a small business, we’re interested in exploring this with you!
Important tips for anyone thinking of sponsoring a child through your own effort (not through us I mean):
- Don’t do it without knowing the child or believing you have understood his or her situation enough to willingly give. A four-year commitment is ideal for the child. Spend at least one day with the child, visit their home, talk to the family, neighbours, teachers to cross-verify the basic information. If you are planning to be a “light touch sponsor”, you will need a trusted relationship with the close guardians. They will visit the child for parents day, they will discuss with the teachers and school nurses, the child will know them much more than she/he will know you.
- If you are very short of time, you can take a short-cut by talking to established institutions, like international NGOs or church-run schools (NOT private schools run by so-called pastors!) to point out children and families to you. Insider knowledge comes through trust. And trust is earned – often over time! Also remember that they might worry you could be unreliable or have second thoughts regarding the children under their care.
- Accountability issues. Often, numbers will change in the course of the year, the child might have a sickness which needs costly medication, suddenly a certain fee pops up that wasn’t discussed before. Always use your common sense, ask for written proof, ask for references and actually talk to them. Ask for photos and letters from the child, the scanned report card. If you’re abroad, get them verified from a third party on the ground.