It is sickening, it really is. The school cartels in our country are running amok. After scouting for a school for months on end or once your child has received a calling letter from a secondary school you get the shopping list for your child’s requirements. But Alas! The total amount of buying the uniforms is even more than the fees you are required to pay for the whole year!
Oh, so you know places that offer the same uniforms at a cheaper price? That does not matter as you are supposed to buy uniforms from school or from particular shops in the county you come from.
Now everyone in Kenya needs a side hustle to make ends meet in the face of skyrocketing bills, increased taxes and so on and it is for this reason that I cannot begrudge a school principal who decides to sell uniforms on the side.
My only problem with such principals is that they inflate the prices of the uniforms making it hard for parents who are not well off financially to just opt to take their kids to other schools. Some would argue willing buyer willing sellers on this issue but the choice is never there. It is obligatory you buy from the specified places.
In other instances, the principals will collude with some shops to have parents buy the Uniform for the cost of an arm and leg. If you dare buy from other places your child will get into trouble and their uniform will be confiscated, meaning that you will just have to comply with the directions of the school.
Can you imagine buying a school tie that ordinarily goes for Ksh. 75-100 for Ksh. 1000? In another school, parents were asked to pay Ksh. 20, 000 for two sets of uniform, 1 tracksuit, 1 badge and a tie. Total madness if you ask me. No one says that you cannot include your markup but as you do please let it be within reasonable bounds.
In 2017, parents in Kenya heaved a collective sigh of relief when the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) declared that it was going to give guidelines for the procurement of uniforms in Kenya. This is after a myriad of bitter complaints from Kenyan parents all over the country and which started in Nakuru County.
The Nakuru Residents Association had filed a complaint with the CAK alleging collusion between two shops in town and several schools. The guidelines from the watchdog were to stop school principals from forcing parents to buy uniforms from particular shops.
In their 2015/2016 annual report, CAK said that they had completed investigations and established that the conduct was widespread all over the country. It had started engaging with the Ministry of Education on the importance of coming up with guidelines for parents seeking to buy uniforms. The guidelines are expected to be instrumental in dismantling cartels that have been thriving on dubious arrangements with school heads to fleece parents of their hard-earned money.
The CAK had also issued a public notice that cautioned school administrators against this arguing that it contravened section 21(3)(b) of the (Competition) Act while undermining the benefits and spirit of competition. According to this act, it is wrong for anyone to divide markets through the allocation of particular types of goods and services, areas, customers, or suppliers.
Although the CAK said that parents were free to buy school uniforms form wherever they please as long as the thread count, shade and color met the set requirements, school principals have not adhered to the directions. Parents who are aggrieved by this are free to contact the CAK and register their complaints and maybe, just maybe we can jog their memories on the much-needed guidelines?
School uniforms sold at exorbitant prices are not the only thorns in the flesh of many parents as others decry the fact that they are asked to buy beddings that cots Ksh. 15000. Do the beddings have alarms to wake up the students every day? Wondered one parent who was made to go back with the beddings she brought and made to buy the ones the school recommended or go back home with her child.
Then there is the issue of suitcases where the metal boxes that have served generations faithfully are not seen as ideal and instead, you have to buy suitcases worth Ksh. 7000 from the school.
The main requirement of these suitcases should be the safety of the belongings and they should have the right capacity for a student to keep their things. Having students buy a suitcase that costs as much as half the fees they will be paying for the next term is just crazy.
There are parents who are required to pay Ksh. 500 every time their child needs a shave I think the least said about that the better. Some parents have also been forced to buy hockey sticks despite the school not having a hockey team. The sticks are kept for the students but are never released to them once they leave the school. Who knows what they do with them.
Then there is the bus fund and several generations later, no bus to justify the millions of shillings that have gone through the hands of the school cashier. This is despite the school holding several Harambees for the same cause! Don’t even get me started on swimming pools that have never been dug despite the first group that paid for it now having grandchildren.
In some schools, you are asked to come with an extra Ksh. 5000 to help students from poor backgrounds but no one knows anybody who has ever benefitted from the fund. Parents are under siege, they are under a choke hold and there is no one to help them, someone please do something.