Until last year, Rosemary Moraa, a parent, used to part with Sh10,000 per term for her two children to be picked and dropped from a school about two kilometres from her residence in Nairobi’s Donholm.
She used to pay Sh6,000 for her daughter, translating roughly to Sh100 per day for a short trip to and from school.
The charges had been increased by Sh1,000 in the last four years, she says. On the other hand, her son who in kindergarten in the same school used to billed Sh4,000 per term.
This year, Ms Moraa moved to a house barely 500 metres from the school and decided to be walking her children to school before she heads to her work station in Nairobi’s central business district. “Honestly what kept me paying was that I wanted my children to feel the excitement of hopping onto a school bus just like their friends. It’s also convenient and safe for them,” Ms Moraa says. “But then it brought a bit of inconvenience on my part because I had to wait until 7.15am for the children to be picked by the bus. By that time, traffic to town (Nairobi CBD) has built and there was risk of running late.”
She now walks the children to school well before 7am before heading to work.
The transport charges at the Donholm school may seem quite low for a typical average school in Nairobi.
Across the other side of the Nairobi, at Braeburn Imani School, a parent who did not want to be named says she would be paying Sh32,700 for a distance that she approximates at six kilometres.
She has two children at the school and even after moving closer, she still finds the transport costs unaffordable. She has now opted for private transport.
“If my children used school transport it would cost me almost Sh70,000 per term yet my house is about 15 kilometres away. Now I drop them off in the morning on my way to work. In the evening, I pay some private transporter Sh500 to pick them. In a week, I spend Sh2,500 and for three months which is basically the length of a term, I end using about Sh37,500 which is half of what I would have paid for school transport,” she says.
“I have also noticed a trend in schools where the difference in cost between two-way bus transport and one-way is so minimal that it makes no economic sense paying one-way,” she adds.
Another school in Nairobi’s Lang’ata, a middle-income estate, charges Sh9,000 per term for a pupil in Class Three. A father, who requested not to be named in this story, says the school is a 10-minute walk from his house but he has no option of not paying for school transport.
“The school insists that the bus helps in bonding and eliminates class wars among children,’’ he says.
Their story is a reflection of the struggles most parents go through to ensure their children get to school and back home safely and more conveniently.
This also mirrors a dysfunctional and largely chaotic public transportation system due to years of neglect by successive governments that have left the key sector in private sector hands.
Many Kenyan parents now face the headache of finding the best means to transport their children to school.
Parents have the option of using official school bus and privately-owned transport services that are relatively more convenient, but in most cases there is the risk of overloading or accountability.
Some parents consequently prefer to drive their children to school while others opt for carpooling that helps them make some savings on fuel compared to the former option.
Still, there is the option of public transport that is cheaper but largely inconvenient and unreliable.
Whereas official school transport — typically a non-core service in learning institutions — stands out as the safest and most convenient when it comes to time management, there are question marks bordering on charges.
Some parents see the charges by some of the schools as exorbitant.
“Some of these charges are big contributors to the high school fees,” said one parent.
A few of the disgruntled parents who talked to BDLife said while their pre-occupation was to find a well-performing school for their children with affordable tuition fees, they were shocked on learning the charges for non-core services such as transportation, lunch and club activities.
A spot-check of transportation charges in some of the prestigious schools, which have published them on their websites perhaps to enhance transparency, shows parents in high-end schools part with as much as Sh100,000 per term.
Kenya Private Schools Association (KPSA), which says its mission is to co-ordinate, mobilise and regulate private learning institutions to provide holistic and quality education, says schools factor in many costs in calculating the transportation.
Mutheu Kasanga, the KPSA chairperson said some of the considerations before arriving at the charges include varied distances from schools as well as cases where the buses usually come back empty for every trip they make.
“The service is a luxury because essentially when (public) schools used to work all children used to walk to school because there was a school nearby and that school worked … performed (academically),” Ms Kasanga, also a director at Lukenya Schools, said.
“That’s not the case today and parents are moving their children long distances to put them in schools where they have a chance of succeeding (academically).”
Charges for return transport at Hillcrest International School, for example, range from Sh54,300 to Sh100,400 per term depending on its zoning based on distance from school.
Braeburn School charges Sh155,400 annually for transport from designated pick-up points, translating to an average of Sh51,800 per term. This is for children in play group, nursery, reception and those in Year 1 to Year 13.
The school has the option of door-to-door transport which is billed at Sh275,700, an average of Sh91,900 per term.
Parents with children at Crawford International School pay between Sh45,000 and Sh58,000. At Kianda School, transportation charges per term range from Sh13,500 for children in the neighbourhood such as sprawling Kangemi and leafy Loresho to Sh25,500 for those in far-flung residences along Mombasa Road and far end of Eastlands.
“In many schools, parents drop off their children and those who can’t opt for the bus because their personal schedule cannot cope,” Ms Kasanga said.
“There is the element of safety because once you hand over your child to school you know the child is safe as compared to using public transport because ever since Kenya Bus died, Nairobi doesn’t have any public transport that’s favourable for students,” the KPSA chairperson said.
The schools give the parents the option of one-way transport, with parents who fail to pick up their children beyond the stipulated time facing fines to cater for overtime fees for the caretaker.
Despite parents’ concerns over the high charges, Ms Kasanga said some schools are not able to recoup all costs they incur in providing transport and have to hire out their buses to cover some of the costs.