Last week, the Kenya Private Schools Association held its 2nd Annual Conference and Exhibition at the Moi International Sports Complex, Kasarani. The exhibition attracted companies from different sectors such as banking, insurance, publishing, information technology, training colleges and postal services. The firms showcased their goods and services, demonstrating how they could add value to private schools.
Despite the introduction of Free Primary Education (FPE) by the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) government in 2003, private schools serving the poor in the slums of Nairobi still exist. A large number of them dot the main slums such as Kibera, Kawangware, Mukuru, Mathare and Kangemi.
The private schools serving low income families are perceived as peripheral by policy makers, educationists and the business fraternity. Information on their number, location and cash outlays committed to this sector is not readily available.
“Private schools serving low income families? Where are they situated?” asked Njue, a Sales Executive of Mountain Top Publishers. It was the same story for most exhibitors at the conference. Most of them had never heard of such schools.
The problems facing schools serving low income families are many. Take Muthike’s school for example.
“I didn’t have enough money to construct classrooms,” she says. “The cost of iron sheets and timber is too high. If one bought them from Nairobi City, he would be forced to drop them at Ngumo, then have them brought to this place as there are no roads here. This increases the cost. I decided to use plastic bags and cartons to partition my classrooms.”
She is not alone. Waithera has to contend with a leaking roof, brown with age. Though her pupils are exceptionally bright, they have to stop learning when it rains, for apart from the leaking roof, water cuts its way through the mud walls, to the nearby river.
Other challenges include excessive government bureaucracy, lack of toilets, electricity, library and lab equipment. In spite of this, most of these institutions which are managed by individuals, communities and organizations continue to take a lead in solving their own problems and supplementing the government’s effort to provide education.
Amwoso, in collaboration with a local CBO would like to build a permanent structure for his school: “But I can’t do it,” he says. “Nobody owns land here. We can be evicted any moment. If the government allowed schools to own title, I believe good schools shall mushroom.”
The Inter Region Economic Network (IREN) in collaboration with Newcastle University commenced a study on schools serving low-income earners in Nairobi and Kakamega between 2003-2005. The study’s ultimate aim was to bring to the fore the importance of these schools, identify strategies of adding value to their services and form a schools’ network to introduce business approaches to the schools hence enabling them compete favorably in the education industry. The project would further inform policy with a view of encouraging a favorable climate for their service delivery.
After the study, a two day meeting with the school owners and heads was held to brainstorm on adding value to them. The participants launched the Low Income Schools Network (LISNET) to form a unite front against challenges facing them.
There is need for private schools to tap into this multi stakeholder resource. The network could pool their resources and form one huge market for stationery and other services in bulk. This will prove cheaper.
“If customers buy books directly from us or in bulk, we give them good discount,” says Bernard, a Sales Executive with East African Educational Publishers.
On the other hand, exhibitors at the sports stadium should go a step further and repackage their services to fit the low income cadre. They should not limit their services to well- off private schools only. As C.K Prahalad puts it, there is fortune at the bottom of the pyramid. There is great potential for absorbing stationery, building material, health and insurance services, food products and training among others. There is need for service providers to visit the situation on the ground and see how their products can be modified to address the plight of low resource private schools in a win win manner.
I hope the next exhibition will be in the slums!
By Purity Njeru
Ms. Njeru is an African Executive staff writer
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