School uniform retailers have increased prices by wide margins, setting parents up for a tough start to a year that is also clouded with political turbulence arising from the impending General Election.
Uniform stores in Nairobi’s central business district had by end of last week raised the prices of shorts, ties, sweaters, shirts and socks by between Sh70 and Sh150, citing increased production costs.
A popular store, with branches on River Road and Moi Avenue, had for instance, increased the price of a pair of primary school shorts by 11 per cent to Sh710 from the Sh640 it was charging late last year.
In 2014, the same pair of shorts retailed at Sh565, demonstrating the incremental burden parents face taking their children back to school immediately after the Christmas and New Year festivities.
A pair of socks now costs Sh285, up by Sh30, while parents must part with Sh1,195 for a sweater, which is Sh55 more than last year’s price.
The price of a tie is up 13 per cent to Sh170 while that of a shirt remained the same at Sh520.
The new prices mean that a parent buying three pairs of uniform for a pupil must now part with Sh8,640, up from Sh8,115 at the beginning of the year, or a 6.5 per cent increase.
This amount is exclusive of the cost of shoes as well as of sports gear (track suits and T-shirts) required by most schools, meaning the entire back-to-school clothing bill is well over Sh10,000.
Nicholas Maiyo, the National Parents Association chairman, described the uniform price inflation as unjustified, insisting most of the increases are arbitrary.
“Yes, the cost of production may have increased but the amount being passed on to parents is not commensurate with it. If you sum up the increments on each item, the final bill is huge,” said Mr Maiyo.
Parents are, however, set to get a rare reprieve on the cost of books after the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA) announced that the publishers will not revise their cover prices this school year.
David Waweru, the association’s chairman, said that whereas energy and transport costs are up this year, publishers agreed not to pass on the burden to parents.
“The industry recognises that the entire economy is struggling. Notwithstanding the hardships, there was a general consensus that we do not increase prices this year,” said Mr Waweru.
The publishing industry lobby, which is made up of 106 firms, last year raised the cost of 200 titles of State-approved textbooks by up to 10 per cent, citing higher production costs mainly attributed to the weaker shilling.
In September 2013, the government slapped a 16 per cent VAT on textbooks, making Kenya one of the few countries in the world that charges a tax on the learning materials.
The publishers, who supply about 95 per cent of the approved secondary and primary school books, thereafter sought government approval to revise their prices upwards in order to recoup their costs.
“We are happy that publishers have spared us increments this year. However, we have noticed that some key books, especially for Literature, are unavailable in Nairobi. I hope this is not a case of hoarding,” said Mr Maiyo.
The publishers’ decision not to increase cover prices does not necessary mean books will not cost more on the shelves because some bookshops unilaterally increase their margins.
Parents whose children are graduating to the next level — including those joining primary school and secondary school — will also see their budgets balloon since prices often increase with seniority of the pupil.
Besides, those with children in primary school are susceptible to more costs owing to frequent changes in the approved books list.
At each level, there are six government-approved books per subject. Teachers are at liberty to pick any of them for use in class with all other books outside the list being supplementary.
Some teachers, however, alter the list of mandatory books each year, forcing parents to invest in a new set of books, a tough ask especially for those with children in successive classes.
Parents are also holding their breath to see whether schools will heed Education secretary Fred Matiang’i’s directive requiring them not to increase fees except with written approval from the ministry.
The Cabinet Secretary has ordered schools charging extra levies to post the letters of authorisation from him on the schools’ notice boards to demonstrate that they are within the law.
Pupils in day secondary schools are expected to pay Sh9,374 and those in boarding schools Sh53,553 while the government pays Sh12,860 for every pupil in public secondary schools.
At the beginning of this year, schools exploited a loophole allowing them to charge extra fees for ongoing approved infrastructure and transport projects, increasing the burden on parents.