Why Kenyan parents are agonizing over two-month school holiday
The thought of school holidays, especially a long one away from books, uniform and tight schedules, might be what every pupil dreams of.
But for some parents, this poses a big challenge and they are struggling to come up with innovative ways to keep their children positively engaged ahead of the extended December holidays, which will last 68 days.
Given that children will stay at home unsupervised, some working parents are concerned that they may be recruited into crime, engage in illicit sex, engage in drug abuse.
Parents also fear that they will get financially overwhelmed by the youngsters’ needs.
Mr Daniel Ongwenyi, a pharmacist in Kisii town, says that the government should consider refunding parents part of the money they paid as fees since schools are closing much earlier.
“My budget was tailored to ensure their school fees and shopping was done for the duration of third term,” the father of four told the Sunday Nation.
The new school terms were introduced in May by Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i.
Equally apprehensive of the rough economic times ahead is David Kipchumba, a farmer at Ziwa in Moiben, Uasin Gishu County.
“We have sold our produce (maize and beans) so that we take them to school. If they close for two months, it means that we will have to look for money to sustain them,” Mr Kipchumba says.
Another parent in Isiolo says the drought that is currently wreaking havoc in his county means he has to live with his children in the city.
Mr Deribo Jaldesa, a guard, says the long holiday will put a great financial strain on him because the drought at their rural home in Garfasa means he cannot send his four children there to herd goats or live with their grandparents as has been the norm.
Isiolo is one of the seven counties that are being ravaged by drought, a situation that has put the lives of 1.3 million people at risk.
Other affected counties, according to Devolution Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri, are Kilifi, Kwale, Garissa, Wajir, Mandera and Samburu.
Because some schools in those areas offer meals, parents will now be required to provide more meals per day for their children.
But another parent in Isiolo is more worried about the Al-Shabaab recruitment ring operating in the area, and he fears that his children may be tempted to visit video dens that sometimes air extremist content.
Mr Abduba Mamo, a father of seven, is worried that Al-Shabaab recruiters in Isiolo town might take advantage of the holiday to brainwash children.
Earlier this year, the county security team raised concern that children were watching unrated videos in some video dens.
To keep his children in check, Mr Mamo, a civil servant, says he will task a close relative to look after them while he and his wife go to work.
In Nairobi, the fear of joining bad company makes Mr Peter Muia, a father of three, prefer to have his children stay with their mother at their rural home in Masii, Machakos County, than to stay with them in his rented house in Kayole.
“There is no big deal when they live in the countryside because there is much to do. They can feed animals, they can farm and do many other things for themselves. But in Nairobi, it will be disadvantageous because this child, for one, will be idle. Due to that, he will be easily convinced to join crime,” Mr Muia, 42, says.
The National Parents’ Association (NPA) chairman Nicholas Maiyo says one of the biggest causes for worry for parents is technology.
“The long holidays will be a challenge for us as parents. When it is short, it is a bit better for the management of the children. Now that they’re out, they will have access to mobile phones, and you know mobile phones have a lot of issues,” Mr Maiyo, who was recently elected to the new parents’ body, says.
Wary of the risk of having idle minds at the mercy of mass media, Ms Jacinta Wangeci, a hotel owner in Isiolo town, is looking for a female private tutor to ensure her two children are engaged during the holiday.
She has also employed a househelp to keep her children company while she goes to work.
“I cannot send my children to our rural home. They will be assigned to a lot of talks and won’t have time to study,” she says.
Ms Verah Ogolla, a 31-year-old mother in Kisumu, says children tend to spend long hours on television, computers and cell phones, which may lead to indiscipline and laziness.
The mother of three, is also concerned about the high prevalence of sexually transmitted infections among adolescents in her home county.
On the issue of undue influence on children during the holiday period, Mr Richard Oketch wrote to the Cutting Edge, a readers’ forum for the Daily Nation newspaper, saying the ever-rising political temperatures are a cause for alarm.
“I fear that many will lose focus, now that the election campaign gears are being engaged towards a politically charged nation,” wrote Mr Oketch, a concerned parent.
In light of that, Mr Ongwenyi, the Kisii-based pharmacist, says he will only allow this children to watch one hour of TV a day.
“I have two candidates in my home this year. My firstborn son will be doing his KCSE while my eldest daughter will be doing her KCPE. Too much television will distract them from their studies,” Mr Ongwenyi says.
The fact that this holiday coincides with the Christmas festivities worries Mr John Maundu, a 51-year-old father of three in Mombasa, especially because of his son.