As schools struggle with funding against the backdrop of higher enrolment, alumni are becoming key to financing the improvement of physical facilities and payment of fees for needy learners.
The government’s 100 percent transition policy to secondary schools has arrived with congestion in classrooms and dormitories, and the situation will only become worse when they start admitting the junior secondary school students in the next two years under the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) that the government is progressively rolling out.
These challenges have attracted the attention of alumni, which are now increasingly stepping in to build and spruce up their former schools through their associations.
In older national schools such as Mang’u, Alliance Girls, Alliance Boys, Lenana School, Starehe Boys and Kenya High, alumni associations have for many years worked with school boards and management to sponsor projects and mentor students.
The associations have allowed the former students to retain links and identity with the schools — ties that extend to the job market where they discuss opportunities and share experiences.
This is the model that many alumni groups in primary schools and other secondary schools are borrowing to support their alma mater.
Some of the projects include painting classrooms, buying school buses, desks and chairs and looking for donors to support infrastructure development.
The teams are, therefore, seen as key to easing the congestion in schools, and more importantly, mentoring students at a time indiscipline is a big worry seen in the new spate of arson attacks.
At Thika High School, old students living in Kenya and abroad have contributed more than Sh6 million for improvements. They have also set up a benevolent fund targeting up to Sh250 million to pay fees for needy students.
The group is led by George Njoroge, a former director of medicinal chemistry at US pharmaceutical firms Merck and Eli Lilly.
“One of the signature projects, titled Gordon Wright, after the first Thika School headmaster, has focused on cabro paving key areas of the school, thus generating a healthy environment for the students,” said Dr Njoroge.
The school’s alumni association has more than 600 members, among them retired Supreme Court judge Jackton Ojwang, lawyer Paul Muite, Equity Group chairman Isaac Muthure, the deputy bishop of CITAM, John Karita and Linus Gitahi, a former CEO of the Nation Media Group.
“We started with the premises that many of us, old boys, had been abundantly blessed, and Thika High was one of the vehicles that was responsible for showering us with those blessings. It was, therefore, reasonable that we should also express our gratitude by helping others and delightfully so, experience the joy of giving back,” said Dr Njoroge.
Thika High School chief principal Julius Muraya added that the institution’s class of 1996 is also building a dormitory for the school.
The Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association (Kessha) chairman Indimuli Kahi, who is also the principal of Machakos School, said alumni associations have been key to the development of infrastructure such as dormitories, libraries, classrooms and are also actively involved in mentorship.
At his school, the alumni, led by retired Justice Philip Waki, have organised golf tournaments and started infrastructure development that will include the construction of new classrooms and dormitories to address congestion in the school.
“At Machakos School, our alumni team is running several activities, including planting trees, offering career guidance forums and mobilisation of funds for needy students, and organising for adequate supply of water for students,” said Mr Kahi.
In Mumbuni Boys High School in Machakos County, old boys have built a library while at Chavakali Boys High School, the former students financed the drilling of a borehole.
It is a similar story at Kenya High, where the principal Flora Mulatya said the school’s alumnae have sponsored projects and mentored students by offering career advice and other life skills.
“One of the groups— the class of 1971 — painted Nyali House, another group bought new chairs for the dining hall and another is paying school fees for some needy students,” said Ms Mulatya.
Mang’u High School alumni organising secretary Wilfred Gachunga said his team helped in putting up science laboratories and equipping them, renovation of classrooms and changing the roofing.
“We are also holding golf tournaments regularly to raise funds for the school’s development and sponsoring needy students,” he said.
Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha lauded the work done by alumni teams, encouraging Kenyans to join in and contribute towards the improvement of their old schools.
“There is no law in the country which outlaws old boys and girls or willing parents from contributing towards the improvement of schools infrastructure or paying fees for needy students and, therefore, such initiatives are welcomed by the Ministry of Education,” said Prof Magoha.
The renewed efforts by former students to put funds into their old schools harkens back to the early years of a school building in Kenya, where many institutions were put up using funds raised from the community.
Churches also stepped in to build many schools, among them some of the top-performing institutions in the country.
Although the education sector receives the largest share of Kenya’s annual budget — Sh503.9 billion in the current fiscal year — the rollout of the free primary and day secondary education programmes means that most of the money goes towards recurrent expenditure, not counting the large share due to the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) for teacher salary payments.
This leaves a gap in development funding that ideally ought to be met by private sector funding, which the alumni associations are stepping in to fill.