The days of imposing school prefects are numbered as students elect their own leaders

MY CHOICE: Pupils of Applegate Academy take part in an election to choose prefects last term. [PHOTO: CHRISPEN SECHERE/standard]

In a replica of our national democracy, students in schools around the country are now electing their leaders and learning the basics of democratic systems in the process.

The traditional process where teachers selected prefects guided by the students’ performance and behaviour is slowly diminishing in many schools.

The trend is much appreciated and upheld in a number of secondary schools but it is also getting acceptance in primary schools.

Last October, we followed a voting exercise at Applegate School in Kakamega, a private school, with about 500 pupils, who elected their first Student Governing Assembly through democratic balloting.

The Kenya Primary Schools Association (KEPSHA) Representative Josephat Otiende presided over the elections. Within four hours the winners were announced.

Otiende, who has been training pupils on elections said the exercise was rolled out in public schools while Applegate was a pilot project for private schools in the region.

“KEPSHA is taking this democratic programme to private schools in the spirit of democracy to ensure pupils take part in governing of their schools and to educate them on the importance of democracy where the losers will have to join hands with winners and move the school forward,” says Otiende.

Applegate presented aspirants for the positions of President, Deputy President, Senator, Governor, and Principal Secretaries of Education, Environment, Transport, Catering, Hostels, Sports and Clubs.

The aspirants first applied for the position they wanted to hold before they were vetted by the teachers and given the go-ahead to present their mandate to voters when found clean.

The president and his running mate are essentially the old head boy or girl while the deputy, senator and governor are the former class prefects and monitors - principal secretaries are departmental heads.

School director, Everlyn Tiany, says she borrowed heavily from the current political structure to simplify the democratic voting process for the understanding of her pupils and give them a chance to taste democracy.

“We encourage teamwork when we let aspirants shop for a worthy running mate and also sharpen aspirants’ public speaking skills by exposing them to the campaign process. Interestingly, since the campaign season started I noticed otherwise shy pupils come up strongly on during the campaigns.”

The County Director of Education Mabale Indiatsi also attended the event, lauding it a success and an eye opener to society to embrace democracy at all levels and said the exercise strengthened the bond between teachers and students. He said it would spread to other schools in the county in the New Year.

Mary Jane, a Unicef observer, talked to the returning and presiding officers before the exercise.

Unlike during national voting days, which are marked by low voter turnout, the voters came out in large numbers. In fact, all but two voted. Interestingly, some parents were invited for the exercise.

Wilberforce Mukunga, a parent, said, “In our days such things (democratic voting) were unheard of, a teacher would pick a bright or slightly elderly pupil to lord it over the others. Today, we are a step ahead because apart from our pupils understanding the basics of and undertaking in democracy, they are likely to grow into responsible adults”.

Hannington Buhala and Gloria Changeda emerged president and deputy president respectively. The Standard Seven duo, the teachers attested, campaigned vigorously beating there peers by a wide margin.