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Investors see hot prospects in international schools

James Momanyi @jamomanyi

Investors keen to tap into the lucrative international schools enterprise are increasingly finding Kenya a preferable destination despite the cut-throat competition amongst the steady rising number of these institutions that target the super-rich.

But what is driving the upsurge of current acquisition of existing schools or the construction of new institutions in upmarket locations in Nairobi and across the country?

Just in the past three months alone, South African private education group ADvTECH acquired the prestigious Makini Group of Schools, to end a 40-year ownership by proprietor Mary Okelo.

Makini Group of Schools comprises eight schools on four centres in Nairobi and Kisumu that caters for 3,200 students from kindergarten to Grade 12.

Earlier in March, investment firm Centum Ltd announced plans to build a Sh2 billion school in Runda Estate, in partnership with Sabis Education Network which is headquartered in Beirut with a network of schools in 16 countries including the US, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates.

The consortium intends to build 20 schools across Africa, starting with Kenya before expanding to Uganda, Tanzania, Egypt and other viable African markets. And just last week, another South Africa’s leading private schools enterprise, also announced plans to open its doors in burgeoning Tatu City and establish the famed Crawford schools to teach the UK/Cambridge Curriculum.

The Crawford Kenya International College is also a brainchild of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange-listed ADvTECH. And these schools literally cost an arm and a leg as admission charges alone are enough to settle the entire fees for a year for a student in a national secondary school.

Research released last year on International Schools Database survey revealed that Kenya elite schools are among the most expensive in Africa, with the International School of Kenya (ISK), which charges parents Sh2.7 million a year per child (fee alone) leading the list of the exclusive schools.

Hot on heels of ISK, which is owned by the American Embassy and the Canadian High Commission, are Nairobi’s Rossyln Academy, Banda School and Kenton Preparatory School which charge on average Sh1.5 million a year for fee only, excluding other charges.

The survey showed that international schools in Kenya’s Nairobi metropolis are outmuscling schools in other world capitals such as Amsterdam $5,940 (Sh593,788), Kuala Lumpur, Doha, Abu Dhabi and South Africa’s Cape Town whose fees are less.

In fact, international schools in Denmark’s Copenhagen charge the least $4,140, (Sh426,420) a year. On the top end, China’s Shangai is the most expensive city for international schools with charges of $33,396 (Sh3.3 million) a year.

According to a report, Business of Education in Africa, released in February by Caerus Capital LLC, an investment and advisory firm focused on healthcare and education in emerging markets, private sector education is growing faster than public across most education segments in Sub Saharan Africa, from primary to secondary and higher education.

“The education sector investment opportunity in sub-Saharan Africa echoes that in other emerging markets, where the value of annual investments in the private education sector has grown 5,000 per cent since 2001,” the report says.

“This is being driven by consumer demand, by the market stimulating innovations in supply, and by the fiscal realities of governments that are increasingly engaging private sector capital and delivery solutions to provide services and products for rapidly growing populations.”

The report also notes that the increasing demand for private education in Africa is being driven by the growing urban dwelling middle class populations who have disposable incomes.

These are mostly employees of foreign embassies, foreign business communities, international organisations, corporate top dogs and local politicians. This is also true for Kenya , the largest East African economy and ninth largest economy in Africa.

The strong growth outlook in the recent few years despite the volatile political environment and recurrent drought has marked the country as one of the most appealing investment destination.

Equally, the favourable demographic dividend, rising affordability, and growing private consumption, coupled by infrastructure like roads, information and stellar communication has allowed Kenya to elbow the rest and stand ahead of the pack.

Generally, Kenyans have shown great affinity for education and can even go a mile further to even take loans to afford their children the best of education. This is even confirmed by the 2016 study by the Financial Sector Deepening Trust survey which revealed that Kenyans rate education highly than even food.

“Overall, Kenyans place a lot of value on educating themselves and their families. The importance placed on putting food on the table increases with age, while the goal of earning an income decreases with age,” says the report.

About 21 per cent said education was the reason they had taken loans while 33 per cent say they are saving for education.

According to educationist Dr Sara Ruto, who is also the chair of the council of the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, there is great need for high-end international institutions because the well to do parents are more concerned by the current national curriculum taught in public and low-cost private schools because they are keen to give their children a chance for upward mobility and easier access to top universities abroad.

“There is a need for international schools in Kenya because most parents have done assessment and would be dissatisfied with the national curriculum and would be voting with their feet by embracing international schools, because they offer variety,” said Dr Ruto.

“Furthermore, there is a growing middle class in Kenya, who are anxious with the kind of education they want for their children because they are more concerned about the future of their children,” she added.

This echoes Dr John Mugo’s sentiments who enrolled his son in an international school arguing the local curriculum is inadequate.

“I have been a parent in these schools, since 2011 when my son was rejected in an 8-4-4 school to enter Std One after interview. I disagreed with the demands of curriculum for age,” Mugo, the Director of Youth, ZiziAfrique, told People Daily.

Mugo who was former Country Coordinator at Uwezo Kenya said international schools are different because they emphasis on content and how education is delivered is different.

“For instance, IGCSE emphasises research, inquiry, thinking and experimentation from pre-primary, while 8-4-4 emphasises mastery of contents.

Parents are opting for these schools because they feel betrayed by our national system – those contents, rote learning, examinations that only favour top five per cent against a rapidly approaching future in which contents alone will be inadequate to survive,” he says.

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