Students elect their leaders at Nairobi Primary School
© UNICEF Kenya/ 2012/ Serem
Nereah Odhiambo, 14, campaigns to be elected head girl and is supported by her classmates
By Daisy Serem
NAIROBI, Kenya, 24 May 2012: It is election week at Nairobi Primary School and excited students fill the school corridors chanting their preferred candidates’ names.
In the classes, young student leaders confidently campaign for a chance to be part of the student council. There are various leadership positions to take up in the council, ranging from head boy and head girl, to entertainment and games captains, and even class prefects.
14 year old Nereah Odhiambo is vying for School Head Girl and is campaigning from one class to the other. Her motto ‘Vote for the Credible, not the Incredible’ has already drawn a lot of attention from students. As she speaks on the policies she would like to put in place, her eloquence and confidence reveals leadership qualities and maturity far beyond her years.
“This opportunity has really developed my leadership skills,” she says. “And I know it will help me relate with others very well.”
Watching the campaigns and election process take place, one would be amazed at how eager the students are to take part in school governance. Even those in lower primary have not been left out and are involved in electing their class prefects. Schools that have adopted the child friendly approach are empowering their students to participate in school governance affairs, including electing their own student leaders.
Students electing leaders
UNICEF in partnership with the Government through the Ministry of Education conducted a survey in 2008 to establish the relevance of student participation in school governance. This survey has contributed to the establishment of Child Friendly School (CFS) practices by empowering students to take part in the decision making process for a more cohesive school community and conducive learning environment.
The survey also indicates that student participation in school management tends to improve learning and instils positive values in the child. Therefore, other than election of student leaders, schools are encouraged to involve their students in matters that affect their lives including student discipline and how they can channel their grievances.
Many schools across the country, both secondary and primary, have adopted this approach allowing students to exercise their democratic rights at a young age. Nairobi Primary was part of the pilot programme on school governance in primary schools and so far more than 20 other schools have taken up the initiative.
© UNICEF Kenya/ 2012/ Serem
Students from Nairobi Primary vote for their student leaders
UNICEF Chief of Education Suguru Mizunoya says that this Child-Friendly School approach should go a notch higher and take up a national status.
Just as secondary schools have set up a national student council, Mr. Mizunoya urges primary head teachers to work together in establishing a Children’s Government.
“Development of a national student council would be a very powerful mechanism to listen to the voice of children,” he adds. “We have a right to vote but children don’t. Opportunities for children to express their opinion are very limited but this can happen through the national student government.”
Back at Nairobi Primary, elections are on-going as students cast their votes. 15 year old Assumpta Umutoni is in line waiting her turn to elect the student council. She is excited to be a part of school governance unlike in the past when teachers appointed student leaders without involving the students. Assumpta has followed the election process keenly and is eager to elect leaders who are just and fair.
“I am happy that my views and that of other students are counted!” She says after casting her vote.
Even the teachers have noticed a positive change in the school ever since they adopted the student council. “The youth of tomorrow should be better empowered today to make the right decisions.”
Leaders of today
Since the council is elected by the students they are able to work and relate more closely with their peers than the teachers can. As such, the teachers delegate responsibilities to these students who then help to enhance discipline and cooperation amongst students.
Most of the students vying to be part of the student council are eager to play their role in making Nairobi Primary a Child-Friendly School by ensuring the voices of those they represent are heard.
Michael Oduor, a teacher in charge of the student council is equally enthusiastic about the elections. He has noted a great sense of responsibility from the students ever since the inception of student participation in school governance.
Academic performance has also improved with more interactive learning. He believes that empowering students to elect their leaders will help develop their decision-making skills for a more sober electorate in the future.
“Even when of age, these students will be able to choose the right leaders rather than be swayed by politicians,” says Mr. Oduor. “The youth of tomorrow should be better empowered today to make the right decisions.”
The votes are cast and the tally is in. Nereah Odhiambo has been elected Head Girl of Nairobi Primary School!