To contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools in Kenya, as in many other countries, had to temporarily close. This study investigates the extent to which lockdowns and school closures affected households and low-cost private schools (LCPS) in four urban informal settlements in Nairobi: Kibera, Korogocho, Mathare, and Viwandani. Quantitative and qualitative data were collected from household heads, school heads, and key informants from August to October 2021. Our findings indicate that measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 significantly reduced household incomes, and among the coping strategies adopted by some households was to transfer learners from private schools to public schools, especially for learners in primary schools, because public primary schools do not charge tuition and enjoy government-paid teachers. The loss of income from school fees during school closure and from rent for premises, coupled with increased defaults on school fees and a significant reduction in enrollment when schools reopened, led to the permanent closure of some LCPS, and learners had to transfer to other schools. Furthermore, LCPS could not afford to pay teachers during school closures and therefore lost some when the schools reopened. A proportion of private schools opted to fill the gap with cheaper, unqualified teachers. Two main recommendations emerge from our findings. Considering increasing urbanization, especially growth of informal settlements whose residents are mainly low-income households, the government of Kenya should increase the spaces in the public schools available within and around these settlements. The majority of families in these settlements send their children to private schools because there are no government schools available near them, not necessarily because they prefer private schools to government schools. We recommend that the government provide capitation grants to children from low-income households attending LCPS. In the short run, there is a need for a recovery fund for LCPS, especially those that are at-risk of closure.
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