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Low-cost private schools hotcake for slum parents

Concerned about low quality education in public schools, research shows parents are withdrawing their children in favour of preference to low-cost non-state institutions in densely populated informal settlements

It is about 4pm and Janet Muthoni is busy counting her remaining stock of chapatis at her food stall on Nairobi’s Enterprise Road. Satisfied, she adjusts a leso tied around her waist and picks a wet cloth to clean up the food counter, but before she begins she spots us approaching her kiosk which is built of rusty corrugated metal, tattered tents and earthen floor.

“Karibuni” she tells us with excitement. She ushers us to a pair of benches next to the cooking area, a wide smile constantly on her face. The rear wall of her kibanda is the fencing of Bridge Academy, Kingston a low-cost private school where her three children study.

We are here to ask her why, with her modest income, she has decided to take her children to a private school whereas government schools are free of charge. “It is the value of education,” she quickly responds. “Before I transferred my son from a government school, he could barely read or write. He also was never motivated to go to school because they were not taught most of the time,” she says.

In this private school, however, Muthoni testifies that her son’s performance has improved greatly, which she attributes to how teachers maximise every learning second, engage pupils, and conduct fast-paced lessons, which did not happen in the public school.

“Government schools also have too many children hindering teachers from focussing on individual needs of every child, unlike this school where nothing more matters than holistic development of every child,” she says.

If Muthoni’s situation is anything to go by, then a study by RTI International a few weeks ago that poorer parents are making great sacrifices to avoid public schools, and place their children in private schools at significant financial cost holds water. The main reason, according to the research, is that parents believe private schools offer better quality education than public institutions.

The more than 1,000 parents and head teachers at 93 public and private schools interviewed in Nairobi described low-cost private schools as being of high quality, with harder-working teachers who are consistently present in the classroom. Homework is assigned regularly and supervisors observe teachers.

Eight in 10 parents whose children went to low-cost private schools claimed that quality was their strong motivator. And for public school parents, quality was a factor for 56 per cent, with affordability of fees and proximity being the next greatest concerns.

The study also confirms Muthoni’s assertion that despite struggling to cater for the basic needs of her family singlehandedly, she’d rather toil to keep her children in a private school. She pays between Sh1,500 and Sh3,000 per child for her three children.

The RTI International study says that on average, having one child in one low-cost private school cost 12 per cent of the income of the household’s main earner. Given that families in the study had on average three children, this is a significant portion of household spending. On average, low-cost private schools were twice as expensive.

But what is more encouraging for parents according to the survey was the “flexibility” of head teachers in the low-cost private schools, since parents are sometimes allowed to pay fees over a period of time as the children continued learning.

Further, Muthoni does not have to worry about where her last born, Alphonse Munee, who is in nursery school will go after school breaks in the afternoon, Bridge academy takes care of the children beyond school time until parents or a guardian comes to pick them.

The study affirms this. “The parents’ preference to informal schools is informed by security and well-being of their children and availability of Early Childhood Development component, which most public schools lack,” said Benjamin Piper, Senior Director in Africa Education, RTI who did the research.

Bridge Academy’s Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exam results over three consecutive years 2015, 2016, 2017 could be a living proof that parents are right to think that low-cost private schools are actually offering quality education.

“Bridge pupils have significantly outperformed the nationwide average in their KCPE exams, in 2017, by over 10 per cent,” said Bridge International Academies’ Schools Director. He owes it to the school’s method of delivering lessons to pupils, “We’re committed to hands-on learning for every child and utilising wireless technology to deliver results

. Teachers show up to teach, the pupils have learning materials and teachers get detailed lesson plan to provide pupils high-quality education on a constricted budget,” he says.

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