About a week ago, a heated debate arose on whether private schools should allow students who haven’t paid the required fees in full to continue studying or not. The matter received mixed reactions from both parents and school owners. It showed the extent of divided thoughts on matters of education and the welfare of the student.
Today we are looking at another matter of contention in the private education sector in Tanzania. Recently, a mother who was taking her child to school to report for a new academic year was taken aback after she was informed that her daughter, who was beginning a new grade, was supposed to enrol for boarding.
Boarding in private schools does not come cheap; some can cost an arm and a leg for a term. When this new directive was communicated to parents whose children study in some of the boarding schools that have adopted this new study arrangement, there was a unanimous concern on how such an arrangement would be sustained – especially financially. Unlike public schools where education is free, private school costs are high, though it depends on your school of choice.
A random survey carried out by Success in 5 schools in Dar es Salaam revealed that, some of the parents whose children are in private schools go through financial strain to make sure they manage to enrol their children at school each year. But that is generally the cost of education.
The survey further revealed that the compulsory boarding introduced by some private schools targets pupils in Standard IV and VII. Reasons for such a decision are the need to prepare the students better for national exams.
Though the idea may be logical, it still begs the question of compliance from parents who can’t afford the extra cost, for boarding school is more expensive than day school.
Mariamu Martin is a mother of four children. She has a child at a private school in the city. She was unaware of the full details of the new arrangement, but that was until she took her child, who was starting Standard VII back to school.
“When I read my child’s report form, it did indicate that upon school opening all standard VII and IV pupils were to stay in boarding schools, but I thought it was only for parents who can afford to pay for boarding. This is in part due to the increase in school fees, an increase of Sh1.2million compared to grade VI school fees,” says Martin.
On asking why it is necessary for her child to stay in boarding, she was informed [by the academic teacher] that pupils who are getting ready for national examinations will have an intensive timetable that will require them to start classes at 6am and not 7:30am as always.
In addition to that, she was also informed that students will have to get back to class from 4pm to 8pm. Such a schedule will make it hard for parents to adhere to the requirements of the timetable and so the only way to cope with the changes is to keep the pupils at school as boarding students.
From Sh1,000,000 per year for school fees, the amount rose to Sh1,800,000, which has to be paid in three instalments. There is also about Sh400,000 needed to cater to other school requirements deemed necessary for a child’s stay while at boarding. Such requirements are mattress, bed net, shamba dress, suitcase, bucket, track suite, among others.
Mariamu had to ask for more time from the school management for her to get her affairs in order and raise enough money to pay for school fees.
James Kihiyo is another parent who is also struggling with the changes. He says, three years ago his son had no other option but to stay at boarding at Macedonia School in Kinyerezi.
The concerned father had other two children to pay school fees for. So it was hard for him to mobilise enough funds to pay for every child. Instead he accepted the school conditions to drop by his son at the school at 6pm and pick him at 22:00pm daily.
“Coping with the school time table was very hard. I had to leave home very early in the morning and make sure I wait for my child until he finishes night session. It was a year of utter struggle to ensure my son gets the education he deserves,” says James.
Adding to that he says, this year he prepared in advance to make sure he affords the required school fees that will keep his son at boarding for entire academic year, saving the both of them form the challenges they previously went through.
John Fanuel* is a primary school teacher in one of the five private schools visited by Success. He says schools have introduced different ways of supporting pupils to make sure they are in a good position to sit for their national examinations.
He says, private schools are now working hard to make sure each school records a good performance. It helps them attract more students. He believes it is a good initiative, but admits that it is financially demanding to parents.
Adding to that, he also says that their personal lives as teachers have also been affected by the changes as they are required to arrive very early at school and leave late.
He advises school owners to support parents whose children are required to be at boarding by giving them four instalments instead of three as the required process to clear the school fees.
Benjamin Nkonya, Chairperson of private schools owners in the country, says that parents are aware of the changes in majority of the private schools. It is their decision to see whether it is an rrangment they can comply with or not.
He says parents who are unaware of the arrangment should seek for a clear explanation on the changes rather than viewing it as a negative development.
He also advises school managements to take an extra initiative of educating parents on the cons of such an arrangment.
“We are all aware that it is not easy to get quality education without investing money and time. At the same time it is not fair for parents to just pay for quality education without being informed on how it will work for the best interest of their children,” says Nkonya.
Adding to that he says, schools should keep talking about the importance of keeping pupils at boarding schools at the level of grade IV and VII. They should also constantly remind parents of such required adjustments in order to enable them prepare their finances.
Commenting on the matter, Stephen Shemdoe, Lushoto District Education Coordinator, Special Needs, says at the government level there is no such directive requiring Standard IV and VII pupils in private schools to study under boarding arrangements.
He says since the government is not in a position to decide on how private schools should be run, it therefore up to the private schools managements to ensure that their affairs are well communicated to parents in order to avoid any unnecessary miscommunication.