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How to find the best school for your child


10 factors to consider when getting your child a new school

Most parents wait for KCPE results to find the best schools for their children. They will sit in front of the TV watching the KCPE results announcement, buy newspapers to see which school produced the highest performing candidates. Usually, this is a free marketing opportunity for private primary schools. Regardless of the effort put in by the teachers, they will work hard to get pictures of candidates to stick to their walls should they do well. They will hold ceremonies to celebrate and in the evening hold an urgent meeting to revise school fees.

Now if your child is still in the competitive 8-4-4 system, don’t start running up and down finding the best-performed school or putting unnecessary pressure on teachers to produce the top performers of their year.

As you know, every child is different, and so is every class in a school. There are students that are strong academically while others are not. Exams are also different, and candidates handle them differently.

My son changed schools 7 times from Standard One to Seven, but this did not prevent him from performing well. He was among the 3 candidates who scored 400 and above in his school, and hence qualified to join a national school. While work and finances forced us to move to all these schools, here are things I would encourage every parent to look at when finding a school for their children:

#1: School infrastructure

The most basic one is well-build classrooms with desks and ample space. Not every school can afford this, and most public schools may be crowded. However, if you are taking your child to a private school, ensure that it has enough classrooms.  See how the classrooms look and ask the number of students in each. If it is a boarding school, ensure that the dormitories are constructed according to the ministry requirements. In terms of offices, most private schools do not have staffrooms and thus teachers just sit in class with the students. I don’t find anything wrong with this, because it means there is always someone holding the students accountable during their free time. Look also for the availability of playgrounds because you want your children to balance between academics and play.

#2: Weather Patterns

Some places in Kenya are dry while others are very cold. If your child is asthmatic or is allergic to extreme weather conditions, avoid taking them to schools that will affect their health. I remember my son struggling with chest issues due to a cold swimming pool. Towards the exams, two boys got asthma attacks and ended up performing dismally.

#3: School menu

The school menu is extremely important if your child is in boarding school. Find out whether they are eating balanced meals, and if not whether there are ways to supplement it. Most of the time you may have to buy your child packets of long-life milk, cereal such as Weetabix. Others do not serve fruits and your child may have to make own arrangements to get supplies. You can be dropping them, make arrangements with the school for a weekly supply of fruits, or encourage the child to make arrangements with day scholars if any.

#4: Safe drinking water

Drinking water can bring a lot of health complications if not handled well. At home, people have embraced bottled water to stay off water-borne diseases, but at school, very few people care. Dirty drinking water is not safe for anyone, anywhere. Ask where the school gets its supply of drinking water, and whether it is treated to be made safe for drinking. I have seen some schools ask parents to buy bottled water for their children, especially in very dry areas.

In case your child is having problems with waterborne diseases such as typhoid and cholera, you can consider vaccination. Kenyatta National Hospital offers Typhoid and Cholera vaccines for 1,510 and 2,140 shillings respectively.

#5: School uniform

Every school has its own approved school uniform. Some have logos while others don’t. Some schools demand that you only buy from their offices while others send you to a designated supplier. Ensure that you get the right uniform, and find out if they allow extra home clothing to keep warm during the cold weather.

#6: Accessibility

Gone are the days when children could walk themselves to school. Insecurity, accidents and other unforeseen circumstances have made it too risky for children to walk or cross the roads alone. Children have been hit by cars, trains, and riders while trying to access a school that was just closeby. Others have disappeared only to be found later, dead.

Others have been raped, not forgetting those girls who seek favours from bodaboda riders to be dropped to school and back home only to end up pregnant.  If a school does not have a school bus, ensure that you can drop your children to school and pick them up in time. Ensure also the place is safe enough for the children should they decide to walk one day.

#7: Adherence to the ministry of education guidelines

The Ministry of Education has provided schools with guidelines on the syllabus, conduct of teachers, operational hours, term dates as well as student rights. Always talk to your child to ensure that their rights are not being violated. In addition, you need to constantly check what they are reading to identify special needs areas as well as offer proper guidance in accordance with the syllabus.

Though against the Ministry of Education guidelines, some schools still administer admission interviews at a cost. Such interviews involve the writing of a paper.

#8: School Fees

This is very important because you want to be able to settle your child’s school fees in time to fund school operations. Public schools charge as low as 2000 per term, while the rate can be very high in private schools. Make sure you see the fee structure for the entire year and for all classes and find out about their fees revision policies because some school heads can be very manipulative. Find out also if they have other charges such as caution, exam fee, textbook maintenance, etc. and which ones are refundable, and conditions for such refunds. I once turned down an admission offer after I was told to pay 35,000 in admission costs and an extra 7,000 monthly for transport! The school was next to my workplace, and I was spending only 3,000 on transport monthly. Paying 7,000 for my son didn’t make sense given the distance was the same, only that I couldn’t count on taking him to school and picking him in the evening because of my shift hours.

#9: Available Resources

Some schools offer exercise books, while others don’t. Others offer mattresses, cups, plates, spoons and so on. However, the most important resource you need in a school is a library. If you are paying for textbooks, find out if children have time to go to the library to read, and if you need to buy supplementary books. Most of the time, textbook levy does not mean that you will never buy textbooks. Actually, it rarely makes a difference.

#10: Extra-curricular activities

Will your child be focusing only on books, or does the school have any extra-curricular activities? Find out if they have PE lessons, clubs, societies, games and a timetable for extra-curricular activities. A school with a playground is likely to be engaging in sports. But do not assume, ask. In addition, find out how the school timetable looks. Sometimes, private schools may overload students with work without giving them free time for private studies or group discussions.

I once visited a public school in Machakos county and was impressed by their timetable. It was the first school I found with a slot for group discussions on Saturday. If it were a high school, this school would have been a national school.

If your child is joining a boarding school, it is important to find out where the students get spiritual nourishment for the week. Spiritual wellbeing is just as important as academic and physical wellbeing. Besides, spiritual growth goes hand in hand with hope. Your child needs to know that there is a source of hope when things don’t go well.

In conclusion, do not rush to take your child to those expensive schools that topped in this year’s KCPE. Students have passed from unknown schools, private and public schools. Find a school that meets your child’s needs and one that will give them an opportunity to be a wholesome being. In any case, good grades in KCPE do not always translate to good grades in KCSE. Let your child learn at their own pace.

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