Kenya’s decision to close all schools until next January because of coronavirus has left many of its private schools struggling to survive.
The classrooms at Mwea Brethren School, which once resonated to the sound of children learning, are now filled with a cacophony of clucking chickens. On the chalkboard, maths equations have been replaced by a vaccination schedule.
Joseph Maina, who owns the central Kenyan school, has had to turn to nurturing animals to earn some money as he is no longer getting an income from providing an education.
Things were especially tough in March, when all the schools were told to close, as he was still repaying a loan and had to renegotiate with the bank.
At first, it seemed that everything was lost, but “we decided that we must do something [with the school] for survival”, Mr Maina in his words.
As private schools, which educate around a fifth of Kenyan children, rely on fees for their income, their enforced closure has meant that they cannot pay the staff and many are in serious financial trouble.
A small number of schools have managed to continue teaching through online learning, but the fees they are getting barely cover teachers’ basic living expenses, according to the Kenya Private Schools Association (KPSA).
About 95% of the more than 300,000 private-school staff members have been sent on unpaid leave, KPSA chief executive Peter Ndoro says.
In addition, 133 schools have been forced to close permanently.
In order to avoid taking this drastic measure, Roka Preparatory, another school in central Kenya, has also converted its premises into a farm.
“Things have never been this bad,” James Kung’u, who founded the school 23 years ago, tells the Pearl Fm.
Outside, vegetables are now growing in what was the playground.
He is also rearing chickens.
“My situation is similar to other schools. I struggle to fuel the car. The teachers and the students are no longer here. Psychologically, we are very much affected,” Mr Kung’u says.
Both Mwea Brethren and Roka have retained only two employees, who are helping with the farm work.