Change the election date to avoid disruption of school calendar

A voter confirms his votes before casting them at Kileleshwa Primary School polling station during Kenya's general election on August 9, 2022. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG

If schools reopen today (Thursday) as planned, two weeks of the rather tight academic year will be gone. The second and third term dates will have to be changed. Owing to the work I do supporting some secondary and primary schools, I keep close to some teachers and school managers.

Listening to them, the disruptions occasioned by the recent elections have been unprecedented. They’ve impacted learning and assessments in schools quite negatively. The uncertainty around the dates on which schools would close and reopen after polls didn’t help public perceptions on Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha.

Hilarious memes about his decisions on the matter circulated for days. But Kenyans should cut the Cabinet Secretary some rope on this matter. He is one among many actors on matters elections. Granted, he kept changing the publicly announced dates. I guess this must have been in good faith, and for justifiable reasons.

Anyone familiar with backroom government consultations on matters such as these, and the implications of contested election results to travel and learning, can make good guesses. Prof Magoha only happened to be the face around which the public announcements were made.

Above said, where do we stand on this matter, and what’s our future? Elections for our President, Members of Parliament and Members of County Assemblies in Kenya are important. And they will have to be done every five years. Equally important are our learning institutions.

They are perhaps our most important institutions. Schools, colleges and universities are our best industries. They process knowledge, and shape values and character for posterity. They are fundamental to all other productive processes in our nation.

It would therefore be most prudent to plan all other national activities with the school calendar in mind. Having learnt from our past where presidents had discretionary powers to pronounce election dates, and in an attempt to introduce transparency and predictability, we fixed the dates rigidly in our 2010 Constitution.

It provides that a General Election of Members of Parliament shall be held on the second Tuesday in August in every fifth year; and that the election of the President shall be held on the same day as a general election of Members of Parliament. This is as rigid as it could get.

Whereas a flexible election date has been previously abused, we need to get out of this straight-jacket where the election date is so rigidly fixed that something as important as the academic calendar becomes secondary.

While epidemics like Covid-19, or a monumental natural calamity can compromise and change the academic calendar, not so elections whose date we have authority over. I think Parliament must give thought to this matter, and tweak the text of the Constitution to allow some little flexibility of the election date.

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Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.