3 things scare (relatively) new parents most:
- When a toddler is strangely silent in the kitchen
- When the toddler enters the sitting room filled with guests proudly sporting an undergarment on the head (and it’s usually the torn one you meant to throw away).
- When the toddler demands to go to school.
Welcome to the school hunting season. As the year draws to a close, parents are frantically searching for institutions in which to enroll their ‘angels’. At this stage, they want nothing but the best.
I’ve heard a few cases where some parents fill out school registration forms at hospitals, minutes after childbirth. As the nurses clean up the baby, a school administrator shoves application forms (and school fees structure) under the mother’s nose, just before she passes out due to exhaustion. This is because the ‘elite’ schools have waiting lists of up to 3 years long. On the other side of the scale, I’ve come across fish mongers wrapping their delicacies in school prospectuses; very fishy, whichever way you look at it.
School businesses are very lucrative in Kenya and there’s cutthroat competition. At this rate, we’ll have school hawkers at every street corner, salon and bar. As a parent, which school do you go for? There is no hard and fast rule; but here are a few tips to point you in the right direction.
- EMPTY TINS MAKE THE MOST NOISE
Schools that advertise the loudest are more likely to treat your child as a commodity, not a young person seeking an education. They tend to air flashy television adverts and radio announcements. Others plaster entire neighbourhoods with reams of posters (also an indication that they don’t really care about keeping the environment clean, a bad sign.
The really good schools have no need to advertise as they either already have full waiting lists or excellent reputations spread by word of mouth. Those that proclaim “ADMISSIONS ONGOING” all year round may not provide the quality education you seek. Your child is in his/ her formative years and needs the best foundation available.
Seek advice from a close friend, neighbour or relative, preferably a parent. Teachers may be biased to lure you to their schools, because it’s a business.
Just because an institution has a luxurious long distance vehicle for a school bus, doesn’t mean your child has to spend 4 hours a day commuting between school and home. Besides, school buses are overrated. We’ll discuss this at length later.
The closer home the school is, the more convenient for you and the child. In addition, your child will become more aware of the surroundings.
If you can find a school within the neighbourhood, good. If not, you might want to move your house closer to one.
- VISIT THE SCHOOL, AT LEAST TWICE
Don’t be fooled by the lovely pictures you see in the brochures and television advertisements. You might see majestic buildings in lush, green surroundings, when the reality is that the school is located on the 6th floor of a congested residential apartment.
There was once a secondary school on Mfangano Street – Nairobi city – which was on the third floor of a busy business hub. There was a bar on the 2nd floor and a noisy church on the 4th. Both of which operated 24 hours. How they managed to study is anyone’s guess, unless they were being apprenticed to work in those establishments.
Is the environment child friendly and secure? Ensure you make a surprise visit. Catch them when they are unprepared.
Talk to the head teachers, teachers and staff
They will spend a lot of time with your child, so you need to know if they have your child’s education at heart. One headmistress asked me (as she was scrolling through her mobile phone), “Is your daughter a boy or a girl?” Needless to say, I never went back.
How do the teachers and staff interact with the children? Do the kids show signs of anxiety and nervousness? These are signs not to be missed.
I was lucky to meet a headmistress who seemed genuinely concerned about the child’s well-being; including stating that school life is not a substitute for family life. She insisted that she didn’t run a day care. They only guide, the parents provide the push.
How soon do they pull out the fees structure?
Granted, education is expensive. But if the watchman hands you the school fees structure as you walk towards the reception area on your very first visit, chances are the school cuts corners and the items they ask you to pay for are non-existent or substandard. Ideally, the school fees structure should come after you’ve walked around and learnt more about the school.
While perusing the fees structure, note the costs of the items for comparisons with other schools.
Schools these days try to force you to buy their uniforms directly from them. To lock you in further, they insist that’s because you can only get their logos from them. With a bit of research, I found a few places that sell the said school uniforms WITH the original logos. It’s tedious, but worth it. And you’ll save quite a bit. Why pay shs. 700 for a light cotton shirt, which you can get at half the price elsewhere? I avoided the schools which insisted I purchase their outfits from them. Why buy safari boots at exorbitant prices when they are readily available at every Bata shop?
Does the school provide meals and snacks or do you have to provide them? Some schools prefer uniformity, while others will specify what sort of snacks to bring.
More often than not, the fancy food names you find in the menu are non-existent. For example, many menus featured, “Spaghetti Bollognaise”. The teachers said it was simply spaghetti and minced meat (technically true, never mind it should be speltas “Bolognese”). The fancy name is supposed to awe you into opening your wallet further, but it’s nothing close to what you’ll find at La Trattoria.
Having seen the way school buses are overloaded and roughly driven these days, I’d rather not have my daughter board one. If the school is near home, a little stroll will do her a world of good (escorted, of course).
If you opt to use school transport, have a closer look at the vehicles. Do they appear well maintained? Are the drivers presentable? Dilapidated vehicles with drivers dressed scruffily could be an indicator that your child may be in for a few rough rides.
These are first impressions that determine whether your child will be comfortable in that school or not. In the next and final installment, we’ll go beneath the surface.