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Bringing Kenya’s Young People to the Decision-Making Table

What Happens When a School Elects its First (and Second) Student President?

Students at Uhuru Gardens Primary School Host School-Wide Elections to Improve Teacher Attendance, Increase Student Safety and Expand Quality of Learning and Innovation

By Andrew JC Cunningham

NAIROBI, Kenya: On April 9th, 2013, Uhuru Kenyatta was inaugurated as Kenya’s fourth president. With millions of Kenyans watching history unfold, President Kenyatta used his first speech to make a clear commitment to advancing the rights of women and children throughout the country.

“National unity will only be possible […] when women and young people are both seen and heard at the decision-making table, at national as well as devolved levels of government,” said President Kenyatta.

The following day after the Presidential inauguration, UNICEF was invited by Madame Elisheba Khayeri, the head teacher of Uhuru Gardens Primary School, to witness what she calls a piece of Kenyan presidential history in its own right– the school’s second year of electing a children’s government.

Before starting the children’s government in 2011, Khayeri said that students were shy, quiet, and even fearful of talking to their teachers and administrators. After the first year of elections, however, she says that pupils are more open, confident, and interested in finding innovative ways for improving the quality of the school.
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Khayeri says that this year’s election, though,  is little different. Just as the Kenyan government has had to change its roles and administrative structures through devolution – where one national government has devolved into 47 county governments -- with newly elected governors and senators.  Their school, too, has changed the leadership roles in children’s government.

She views her classes as Kenyan counties – each with an elected Senator and Governor, followed by school-wide offices of the Deputy President and coveted office of the President.

Sitting down with last year’s elected student officials, UNICEF learned just how beneficial the children’s government has been for improving Uhuru Gardens Primary school. Students and teachers described a variety of benefits.
 
(1.) First, teacher attendance has improved dramatically.

Student Governors of each class are given the responsibility to monitor teacher attendance on a weekly basis. Each Governor records when a teacher is absent or present and if and when a class is missed, they note whether or not it was later retaught by the teacher. As a result, parents, pupils and administrators report that teacher absenteeism has decreased significantly over the last year.

Teachers no longer play a game of what head teacher Khayeri refers to as “’Hide and Seek’ with the students; instead, they simply come to teach.’

(2.) Second, student safety has increased significantly in the school.

A pupil, named Debra, recalls the impact of Abraham Duor, the school’s first student-elected president, and his campaign to increase student safety.

“As the president, he made sure that bullying did not continue in the school,” she says.

In short, bullying, incidents of theft, and general school insecurity has decreased as the result of the children’s government and their new roles and responsibilities within the school.

© UNICEF Kenya/2013/Cunningham
Students campaign for leadership positions at Uhuru Gardens Primary School in Nairobi

(3.)  Third, teachers are using student elections as teaching opportunities to increase knowledge in citizenship and social studies.

Khayeri recalls the school’s first elected student President who was Sudanese and the teachable moment that arose when pupils argued he could not sit as President:

“We had a boy called Abraham Duor, a Sudanese. At first, it’s like the children were saying he is Sudanese and he cannot become the President. So we had to go to Social Studies. He had lived in Kenya for more than seven years, so the dual citizenship also played a role and he was accepted and he did very well.”

(4.) Fourth, students are offering new ideas of how the quality of education can be delivered, recognized, and improved in their school.

For example, Debra Bosibori, a 14-year-old pupil in class 8, and a presidential candidate in this year’s school elections, uses her campaign speeches to advocate for increased reading time in the morning hours before teachers arrive in school, calling on the school to provide more electricity before school begins.

Her opponent, Nilla Analo, also 14 and also running for the office of school president, advocates in her speeches for pupils to be recognized not just for being the top performers, but for also making the most improvement in learning over time.

Students at Uhuru Gardens Primary School are offering more than just political promises, but instead providing strategies for improving the quality of education at their school that head teacher Khayeri plans to implement in the coming term.

(5.) Fifth and finally, students are becoming leaders within their schools.

They have the opportunity to practice not only their public speaking and communication skills, but also their commitment to improving the world in which they live.

Khayeri says, “If we believe in our pupils’ potential to change our world, our world will be changed for the better.”

According to Khayeri’s view, Kenya is now entering an age of innovation in education and pupils need to be empowered with meaningful leadership positions and opportunities. 

It is our collective responsibility, she says, to continue celebrating the achievements of our student leaders, but most importantly, continue finding ways to invite them to the our decision-making tables and ultimately make a positive difference in the world in which we live.

Khayeri says, “So as they [the pupils] go out, they make a change. And because Kenya is becoming innovative and many things that are coming up and leadership is becoming youthful, I also want to see them in leadership in the future.”

In one of her speeches, presidential candidate Nilla Analo announces to a crowd of eager fellow pupils, “If I am elected President, I promise to make sure that this school is a child-friendly school. We are going to have integrity, cooperation, peace and loving in every one of you. I promise you.”

Three days after the election campaign speeches were held, Nilla Analo was announced the winner and became the second student-elected president in Uhuru Gardens Primary School’s history.

Congratulations President Nilla!

 

 
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