- At Brookhouse School Karen along Nairobi’s Magadi road, foreign students account for 45 percent of 760 student population in both day and boarding school, from early learning, primary and secondary.
- The students are from Tanzania, Uganda and others beyond the region including Nigeria, Malawi, and the US.
- The school offers boarding from Year 7 and Year 8, equivalent to Class Seven and Eight in the Kenyan curriculum system, to secondary.
With ‘boarding parents’ that mimic the roles of a mother, a father, or a nanny; waking up a child on time, supervising bed-making, showers, and homework; and the leeway to pick children for home dinners, elite boarding schools in Kenya are increasingly becoming attractive to foreigners. To some, Kenya’s elite boarding schools should start being marketed as the region’s best, owing to the increasing number of international students.
At Brookhouse School Karen along Nairobi’s Magadi road, foreign students account for 45 percent of 760 student population in both day and boarding school, from early learning, primary and secondary.
The students are from Tanzania, Uganda and others beyond the region including Nigeria, Malawi, and the US.
“A good number of the boarders are from the region, or of parents who are in Kenya on international placements or are expatriates and hence choose to have their children in boarding,” says Andrew Kimwele, Brookhouse Headteacher boarding.
“The boarding system is flexible. Students can choose to board weekly, experience boarding for a month, or be a full border. At the moment, we do not have weekly boarding due to Covid-19.”
The school offers boarding from Year 7 and Year 8, equivalent to Class Seven and Eight in the Kenyan curriculum system, to secondary.
Eric Mulindi, Brookhouse Head of Secondary School says what makes boarding schools attractive is the mentorship and games, which are outside the academics.
“From 3.35 pm, students are exposed to mentorship programmes,” he said.
With fees of about Sh2.5 million a year for full boarders, the schools offer a rounded, multicultural ‘school of life’ from mentorship from Kenya’s top CEOs to games that almost guarantee them to be professionals in adult life.
Equity Group CEO James Mwangi, elite athlete David Rudisha, wildlife conservationist Paula Kahumbu, former vice-president Moody Awori, businessman Manu Chandaria, top athlete Tegla Loroupe and educator Mary Okelo are among the school’s patrons.
At the sleeping quarters, one room that is shared by two students is larger than most single rooms in the city, with each student having their own bathrooms, a study table and a wardrobe.
The students are allowed to have home clothes, mobile phones and laptops with a connection to Wi-Fi.
“As a parent, you can come and pick your child for dinner anytime. We don’t have restrictions that we think are unnecessary. You have to make students feel at home,” Mr Mulindi added.
At St Andrew’s Turi, it is a boarding school with about 600 students. Only five students board only for a week.
Of this, half of the students are locals with the rest distributed from Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Nigeria, Ghana, South Sudan, Malawi, Ethiopia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, the UK and the US.
Boarding starts from the sixth year level to A’ level.
Angela Jackson-Mapetia, the Prep Admissions Registrar says the school has become a good fit due to many parents’ work-life.
“Due to the position of Kenya in Africa, people are relocating here. To maintain a consistent education for their children, that is globally acceptable, they end up looking for an international school,” Mrs Mapetia said, during a recent International Schools Fair at The Hub, Karen.
The Christian-run school has tutors assigned 10 to 12 children each to help them adjust to academics or those feeling homesick. There is also a married Christian couple to supervise every boarding house, matrons and house Chaplins.
In the afternoon, the children engage in athletics, rugby, poetry, drama, and water sports.
“What makes this school attractive is the Christian element. We are not like a typical boarding school. We have other activities like Bible studies where everyone has to participate,” Mrs Mapetia said, adding that the school also admits students from other religions.
“Preps for junior school go for an hour a day while in senior school it takes like two hours,” she adds.
By the time a child gets to Year 12 and 13, they live in their own room in a dorm that is like a residential flat, preparing them for college.
The term fees for Year 5 to 6 under weekly boarding is Sh702,500 and Sh739,500 for full boarding.
Other than the international curriculum that makes students win scholarships and positions in top universities such as Princeton, Yale, and colleges in Canada, Japan and Spain, parents are keen on talent-building.
St Andrew’s Turi, for instance, is known for its choir which competes in South Africa.
“We are leaders in me-school, an improvement model testing on the seven habits for personal growth,” Mrs Mapetia said.
“As a Christian school, it is about training students to understand what it means to be a good citizen and a leader and develop those skills to incorporate Christian values in all positions.”
For Brookhouse, the school has in the past seen 12 schools from the UK visit to recruit children to study in their institutions.
“For the schools to come in search of students here, it means there is a market. When they visit, they realise they rather have their children here in Kenya than abroad,” Mr Mulindi said.
The school is owned by Inspired, a global premium schools group with over 70 schools globally from Switzerland, Belgium, and South America and hence has to apply the same standards across the globe.
There are at least 150 international schools in Kenya, according to the Kenya Association of International Schools (KAIS), teaching both 8-4-4 or Competency based Curriculum (CBC) and international curricula of their choice.
“On average, international schools educate about 200,000 Kenyans. Further, the department of immigration processes on average 20,000 student passes every year, with the bulk of those being for students attending international schools,” said Jane Mwangi, secretariat coordinator of the KAIS.
The lobby group for elite private schools states that the rise in the number of international students has been driven by increased expats due to its regional and logistics hub status.
This also due to the high number of consulates, embassies and foreign-owned companies.
“Kenya is arguably the international school hub of Africa. We have seen a great rise in students coming from East and West Africa,” said Ms Mwangi.
The demand for the international curriculum has also grown due to the rise in the wealthy class. Even parents who live within proximity are now paying for their children to be boarders.
Mr Mulindi adds that locals with busy work schedules are looking for schools with proper structures.
“There are people who live in Karen, Nairobi but prefer boarding schools. Nairobi traffic is legendary and it makes sense to have children in a boarding school,”Mr Kimwele adds.
“We see parents who are farmers from Molo bringing their children to our school,” says Mr Mulindi of Brookhouse Runda.
More boarding schools
Another school, Rophine Field International School off Easter by-pass in Utawala hopes to increase the number of international students for the current three from the US and the UK. The students are day-schoolers of working foreign parents.
The boarding facility houses over 260 students doing the 8-4-4 system.
“Our greatest advantage is our location and there are also few schools on international curricula around Eastlands,” Ms Irene Atieno, communication director says.
The school’s fees range from Sh70,000 to Sh130,000 per term for day schoolers and up to Sh150,000 for boarders. “We are trying to demystify the thought that international curriculum has to be expensive,” she adds.
Sabis International School in Runda started in the 2019/2020 academic year, is also looking to pull in both local and international students.
Boarding in the school starts from Grade 5 to Grade 9. The students come to school on Monday — under the weekly boarding – and leave on Friday evening with the rest, with the fees at Sh595,000.
The school still has a smaller number of borders. It started with six children on board, and currently nine— only two intentional students.
The students have house parents or matrons who make sure they have woken up, made their beds, tied up rooms, and taken up showers within the correct timelines. They ensure they have been assigned homework in the evening and that it has been done. They sit and interact with children outside the class setting.
Rusinga Schools is also planning a boarding facility at Ole Kasasi, Kajiado County in three years.
As the elite schools target to grow the number of boarders, Education Secretary George Magoha in February proposed scrapping of boarding schools under the new 2-6-3-3-3 education system, due to public unrest.
“Some of these issues don’t need a blanket sort of solution. They need to look at the problems and address them. It would be wonderful to strive to make the country an international school hub instead,” Mr Mulindi adds.