Kenya’s decision to close all schools until next January due to the coronavirus has left many of its private schools struggling to survive, as reported by Basillioh Mutahi and Mercy Juma.
Classrooms at Mwea Brethren School, which once echoed to the sound of children learning, are now filled with a cacophony of chickens chuckling.
On the board, the mathematical equations have been replaced by a vaccination schedule.
Joseph Maina, who owns the central school in Kenya, had to turn to animal husbandry to earn money because he no longer derives income from education.
“Vital for survival”
Things were especially tough in March, when all schools were asked to close as he was still paying off a loan and had to renegotiate with the bank.
At first it seemed like all was lost, but “we decided that something had to be done [with the school] for survival, ”Maina told the BBC.
Since private schools, which educate about a fifth of Kenyan children, depend on tuition fees for their income, their forced closure has prevented them from paying staff and many face serious financial problems.
A small number of schools have managed to continue teaching through e-learning, but the fees they receive barely cover teachers’ basic living costs, according to the Kenya Private Schools Association (KPSA ).
About 95% of the more than 300,000 private school staff have been sent on unpaid leave, KPSA chief executive Peter Ndoro said.
In addition, 133 schools were forced to close permanently.
‘Never so bad’
In order to avoid taking this drastic step, Roka Preparatory, another school in central Kenya, has also turned its premises into a farm.
“Things have never been so bad,” James Kung’u, who founded the school 23 years ago, tells the BBC.
Outside, vegetables are now growing in what used to be the playground.
He also raises chickens.
“My situation is similar to that of other schools. I have trouble refueling. The teachers and students are no longer there. Psychologically, we are very affected, ”Kung’u says.
Brothers Mwea and Roka have retained only two employees, who help with agricultural work.
“It’s not for wealth. We’re comfortable… at least you’re not bored, you’re busy and it’s like therapy, ”says Mr. Kung’u.
No role for teachers
While the two schools have found another source of income, the owners are worried about the fate of their teachers, who have had to go without a salary for five months.
This is in contrast to public school staff, who collect their salary.
Mr. Maina says some teachers at his school called him to ask if they could do something. “But unfortunately, we don’t even have enough to feed ourselves,” he says.
I tried to push myself a bit to find something for my child, but it was not easy ”
As a result, many have turned to alternative professions.
Macrine Otieno, who taught for six years at a private school in the capital, Nairobi, was evicted from her home after being unable to pay her rent.
She took a job as a home nanny so she could find shelter and food.
“Since we had our first case of the coronavirus in Kenya and schools were closed, I haven’t had to do anything.
“I tried to scramble a bit to find something for my child, but it wasn’t easy,” she told the BBC.
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Gloria Mutuku, a teacher in eastern Kenya, decided to become an entrepreneur and took out a loan to start a grocery business when schools closed.
She hopes her business will do well and has no plans to return to teaching even when schools reopen.
His idea is not uncommon and there is furthermore a question mark over the ability of private schools to reopen, as adaptation to the coronavirus could come at additional costs.
KPSA wants the government to help solve the financial problem with grants totaling $ 65million (£ 50million). He also hopes that teachers stay in the profession.
“There is a need for the government to support private schools as they significantly contribute to the economy and actually reduce government spending on education,” Ndoro said.
If the money does not arrive, “some schools may not be able to survive,” he warns.
The ministry has offered help through a concessional loan that will be available to eligible schools, but Ndoro fears that this may not be enough to save all schools in the country.
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