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Back to school mad rush is here, again

As schools re-open from Monday, parents have to contend with increased prices of textbooks and other school items due to the Value Added Tax.

Many parents caught up in the usual January last-minute mad rush to beat the back-to-school deadline are complaining that prices of books, stationery, uniforms and other items have hit an all-time high, in addition to the inflation rate that stands at 7.36 per cent as at November 2013.

In spite of this, bookshops, school uniform shops and supermarkets across the city were last week teeming with parents and children, eager to make that one last purchase before today, when schools reopen.

Savanis bookshops in downtown Nairobi was particularly busy with parents buying textbooks, pens and other school items.

According to Savanis Director Mr Pakoo Savani, the 16 per cent VAT increase has meant a 10 to 12 per cent increase in the overall price of books, a cost that must been transferred to parents.

Price negotiation

“Parents are buying textbooks although they are not happy. But what can they do? We have to increase the prices because publishers have also increased theirs, citing the same VAT,” says Mr Savani.

But as he notes, some clever parents chose to purchase their children’s textbooks early enough in November and December, just before the prices shot up.

Leah Masoi with her son Jewel at a school uniform shop on January 4, 2014.
Leah Masoi with her son Jewel at a school uniform shop on January 4, 2014.

One such parent is Njeri Gikonyo, a mother of three. She bought all the required texts before Christmas.

“Buying them earlier saves me the last-minute rush. I also buy new textbooks because they last longer and they can be handed down to the younger children if they go through the same system of education. Today, I am only here to buy book covers and pens,” said Njeri.

According to Mr Savani, parents ought to know that the best time to purchase textbooks is November and December as prices usually shoot up at the beginning of every year.

Across the street from Savanis Bookshop, on River Road is a group of traders who sell second-hand books at half price. The NairobiNews team found parents poring over the huge stacks of the books and negotiating for prices.

“Many who can’t afford new ones in bookshops come here. Some parents too bring other books in exchange of one or here. They see it as a better deal. Our books are cheaper and a lot of parents, especially those who have many children, are able to purchase many books,” said one of the traders.

Small balance

Patrick Ndegwa, a father of four, said high prices of textbooks and the increased school fees had made him seek what he needed from bookshops and second-hand book sellers.

“There is need to balance the budget so I buy some at Ngara and others at Savanis or other bookshops in town. To reduce the heavy financial load, I made sure I paid part of the school fees in last December so I am only left with a small balance to clear,” said Mr Ndegwa.

Parents also have to dig deeper into their pockets as schools have also increased their school fees.

According to Musau Ndunda, the secretary-general of the Kenya National Association of Parents (KNAP), some schools have increased their school fees by as much as 70 or 75 per cent.