Educating children in an international school is an expensive undertaking, with some schools in Kenya charging as high as Sh3 million per year in fees per pupil.
For well-to-do parents, though, it is not really about the money but the value. So what is in a school?
International schools such as Woodcreek, Braeburn, Hillcrest, Banda, Crawford, ISK, St Andrew’s Turi, Brookhouse, and Kenton College may be the most expensive, but parents choose one over the other because of the superiority of the courses taught and facilities.
Increasingly, Kenyan parents are looking for schools that act as a springboard for sports or music scholarships abroad, those that teach new technologies, or those that have mastered how to turn children with conditions such as ADHD, dyslexia, and autism, into future successful robotics engineers or film stars.
Crawford International School, for instance, provides the Cambridge Curriculum from Year One to Year 13, while their kindergarten teaches the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum.
Jenny Coetzee, the principal says they “offer a parallel curriculum where students are exposed to entrepreneurship, leadership, filming and scriptwriting, cryptocurrency, study skills and careers development courses.”
At Crawford, only mathematics, sciences, English and learners from year 10 choose their electives based on their interests and abilities. ‘‘Each timetable is individually compiled. We do not band our learners into groups for subjects,’’ says Ms Coetzee.
The school also teaches French, Mandarin, art, drama, dance, computing, STEAM education in the GO-LAB, music, philosophy for children and economic management sciences.
By spending 30 percent of her income on her daughters’ education, Laura Rotich considers it both an investment and insurance for her children’s future. Her daughters, nine and six, are in Year 5 and Year 1 in an international school in Nairobi. ‘‘I want my children to learn only what they will need in their future life,’’ she says.
‘‘Building my daughters’ independence and confidence is key for me. I was timid as a learner, but they are not, thanks to the learning environment.’’ Ms Rotich does not envision a formal career for her daughters. Instead, she is facilitating them to acquire only practical and applicable knowledge, she says.
Besides new-age courses, there is the appeal of the international schools’ facilities such as webcams for hybrid teaching, smartboards, design and technology music and art rooms, and amphitheaters, there is the extra teachers to support pupils with physical and learning challenges.
While thousands of children in public schools struggle with reading because of dyslexia, some international schools have managed to address well. Dr John Onala, an education support consultant says most international schools have set up departments dedicated to meeting the special needs of their learners.
‘‘These learners can be pulled out of the classroom for a few minutes to work on their specific challenges such as reading, spelling, mathematics, and language skills. Some schools also offer special sessions in the classroom through shadow teaching and individualised education programmes (IEP),’’ says Dr Onala.
The specialist works with international schools in Kenya by conducting learners’ psycho-educational assessments to determine their cognitive, developmental, and academic capabilities. ‘‘This way, I can decide academic placement, the type, the level of support they need and resources required for such interventions,’’ he says.
To support children with learning barriers, some schools have a psychologist on-site to assist ‘‘shadow teachers’’ who attend to such learners. Parents pay for the services of the shadow teacher.
Dr Onala also facilitates access to international examinations for such learners and can even recommend a reduction of subjects and a suitable career path for them.
Ian Mbugua, a performing arts practitioner, has taught music, theatre, and dance for 16 years at Brookhouse Schools, where he also manages the auditorium.
He describes the benefits of performing arts among learners as innumerable, noting: ‘‘They help the learner to develop their creative skills and to enhance their communication skills.
They gain confidence to express themselves better, which in turn improves their performance in other subjects as their curiosity is piqued.’’
Ms Coetzee says Crawford develops students to cope with a rapidly changing world. “Communication, collaboration, analytical and creative thinking, digital literacy, and problem-solving are [particularly important]. A strong value system must be developed for students to learn how to be flexible and to build tenacity and perseverance,’’ she says.