By Anne Nduku
When the Covid-19 crisis hit Kenya, the government immediately implemented measures to curb the spread of the virus. One of the measures was closure of all public and private schools with effect from 16th March 2020.
At Ed Partners Africa, we immediately started working on interventions to minimize the adverse impact of schools’ closure on affordable schools and their stakeholders. For schools that had loan facilities, we immediately embarked on discussing with them on their repayment plans and offered relief in form of moratorium as appropriate. We also noted that schools needed assistance on managing the interruptions during this crisis.
In the last two weeks, Ed Partners Africa has carried out two webinars to offer a platform for affordable schools to discuss ways to manage the Covid-19 pandemic. The webinars have been insightful in that the schools not only learn from Ed Partners Africa but also from their peers. They share experiences, best practices and build resilience together.
In our past webinars, we have been focusing on the following key areas of school business continuity:
Most school owners expressed uncertainty since they do not know when the schools will be reopened and the impact of the same on the schools cash-flow for the year. Ed Partners Africa advises schools to create a check list of issues to consider as they review the continuity of their business. Some of the points to consider when developing the checklist include;
- Review of the staffing requirements in the schools. This entails engaging staff and reconsidering their remuneration at such a period.
- Review of school cash flow and budgets. Schools will be forced to reduce their budgets in order to conserve cash e.g. Projects on constructing additional buildings/ classes etc. will need to be suspended until after crisis. Only critical expenses should be incurred.
- Review the school data and assets. Check what is necessary or needs to be disposed before schools reopen.
- Consider adoption of technology in managing school information.
- Start planning for reopening the school i.e. evaluate scenarios for opening cash, payment of accumulated, enrollments changes, fee adjustments and collection rates.
Parents are likely to be impacted adversely by the crisis and may not be able to pay fees on time. Here are some ideas on how to handle the current crisis considering the different levels of challenges.
- Schools should be concerned with the well-being of the parents and students. To enhance their safety during the pandemic, school owners are advised to keep constant communication with their parents. Emphasizing government messages on how to curb the corona virus is critical given that schools are trusted within their communities.
- Its is advisable that schools continue engaging the parents on student learning at home. This can be done through text messages, Whats App or emails. Constant communication with parents creates a sense of confidence in the school.
- We also strongly recommend that school owners should come up with innovative ways to support learning for students while they are at home. The options include both technology and non-technology options. Technology options consist of education management software, Whats App, Zoom, google classroom, office 365 etc. It is important for a school to carry out a survey on its parents to understand the levels of technology exposure before settling on an online platform e.g. how many parents have access to smart phones/computers/tablets, internet etc. and how many do not have. This should guide on the best solution for different groups. Equally, the school should assess the risks of various technology options and mitigate them adequately before deployment. Schools that opt to print hard copy for assignments, can arrange for different collection points that are accessible to parents to pick and drop the assignments for a marking. Collection points should not necessarily be schools but rather shops closer to where parents live. This should be done while observing the government directives on social distancing, hand-washing and other safety measures.
- Schools that parents cannot access smart phones or internet, can consider linking parents with education publishers to obtain revision materials at discounted prices. These books can be used by students while at home.
- School owners should be sensitive to the economic circumstances that their parents are going through. In such a predicament, aggressive school fee collection is not appropriate.
Teachers constitute over 70% of the staff in a school. Schools should actively engage and communicate with their teachers to avert the risk of losing teachers. If teachers do not have assurance of jobs during and after crisis, they may be forced to explore other jobs or venture into business and this may lead to high attrition rates after Covid – 19. Some of the options to consider while addressing teachers are:
- With consideration to salary payments, the best option is for schools to continue paying their teachers as per the agreements they have signed. However, this can be tricky considering the source of funds (fee collection) is barely recognized. Based on the school’s ability to pay, schools can evaluate possibility of compensating partial salaries, deferring payment of a portion of salaries for payment after crisis or unpaid leave for some months. It is advisable to consult with HR or legal professionals for advice before actioning on any of the possibilities to avoid legal tussles in the future. Laying off teachers may not be a viable option during the crisis.
As indicated in our previous research works some of the affordable private schools operate on rented premises. In line with the Ministry of Education requirements, affordable private schools have signed leases with their landlords which are subject to a minimum term. School owners run a risk of eviction or loosing property during this period if there is rent default with no prior arrangements.
With this risk at hand, we propose that schools consider the following options with regard to engagement of landlords:
- Negotiate for a rent reduction with a certain percentage during this pandemic period.
- Negotiate for a waiver on rent and rent increments with reference to the active lease agreement.
- Negotiate for deferred rent payment until the schools reopen.
During this pandemic, school owners should keep constant communication with all their stakeholders to reassure them about school’s operations during and after the crisis. The content of the communication should not be limited to the learning opportunities only, but also messages that support the government initiatives to flatten the Covid -19 curve.
At Ed Partners Africa, we strongly believe that education is key in transforming generations. Through our partnership with affordable we stand to guard the gains that Kenya has made in promoting access to education.
Ed Partners Africa will continue offering advisory services to affordable private schools through its beyond-loans solutions that are currently being offered online.
Do you run an affordable private school in Kenya, contact us through WhatsApp: +254777888082 to book your seat for the next webinar.