Outrage as George Magoha orders schools be closed today

Education Cabinet Secretary Prof. George Magoha

Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Parents and teachers were yesterday outraged by the unexpected closure of all schools today after just three weeks, even as details of events that preceded the decision emerged.

After the announcement by Education Cabinet secretary George Magoha, parents started making frantic travel plans for their children.

Schools opened on July 11 and were scheduled to take the mid-term break at the end of this week before the shock announcement yesterday morning.

It has now emerged that the decision was reached at a higher level, and even the Education CS was not privy to it earlier. Sources told the Nation that after consulting other government agencies, President Uhuru Kenyatta was advised to close the schools so that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) can adequately prepare for the elections.

Many schools are used as polling and tallying centres during elections. Traditionally, election dates have fallen during school holidays but this year is different owing to a congested school calendar occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic that led to schools losing two terms in 2020.

Closing schools on Friday would have left IEBC with only three days’ access to the institutions before the election. The commission appealed for more time for the electoral officials to be inducted on site.

By early morning yesterday, even Prof Magoha was not privy to the decision to close all basic education institutions. Only a few hours earlier, on Sunday afternoon, while on a tour of Rev Musa Gitau Secondary School in Kiambu County, he had announced that schools close for the half-term break on August 6 and resume on August 15.

This is what the ministry had communicated in a circular dated December 3, 2020, when it announced the reorgarnised school calendar.

Yesterday at 8.34am, the communication office of the CS sent out a media invite asking for coverage of Prof Magoha’s inspection of construction work of Phase 2 CBC classrooms at Ofafa Jericho Secondary School in Makadara at 10am.

However, at 9.24am, the same office sent out another email saying that the event had been cancelled. No explanation was provided. Sources told the Nation that the CS indicated that “something had come up” and hurried into a meeting at State House.

It is after that meeting that the press statement announcing the early closure of schools was released at 11.57am.

The news was met by outrage online from parents and others who called the newsroom to confirm whether the communication was genuine.

“Does George Magoha understand the kind of chaos that this directive is going to cause? Knee-jerk reactions to situations that need planning. What is the urgency to shut down schools tomorrow? Elections are not an emergency! They are in the Constitution!” Glady Sash, a Twitter user, wrote.

Many parents had made travel arrangements for their children, especially those in boarding schools, with the end of the week in mind. Many schools were also in the middle of mid-term continuous assessment tests that have had to be abandoned.

‘Sick and tired’

“Is this real? It really throws me off-balance with travel arrangements already in place for the old dates. I’m just sick and tired of all this drama. What, I wonder, is the guarantee that it will be safe for kids to travel right after election results are out? How will children travel just a day after elections?” wondered Rose, a parent from Kisumu whose daughter is in a Nairobi school.

The early closure will potentially affect the contact time teachers will have with learners and coverage of the curriculum. This will, however, be dependent on mainly the outcome of the presidential vote. It is unlikely that schools will open on August 11 as Prof Magoha directed as this is only two days after voting and the tallying of votes will still be going on.

Furthermore, many parents will be reluctant to send their children to school without a definitive winner.

“It is well that we will have our children at home as the electioneering goes on. Their safety is more important than anything else,” Tony Ochieng, a parent, said.

Under the reorganised calendar, the second term has 10 weeks of learning and is meant to end on September 16, 2022. Further disruption will eat into class time and affect the candidate classes. The third and last term of the crash programme is scheduled to run from September 26 to November 25, after which national examinations will commence.

However, all these plans are dependent on a series of events that might be triggered by Tuesday’s election.

Recent opinion polls have shown the top two presidential candidates Raila Odinga and William Ruto in a neck and neck race. The polls show both candidates getting below 50 per cent of the votes, raising the possibility of a runoff.

The IEBC has seven days from August 9 to announce the results. Only the top two candidates participate in the repeat election that the IEBC must conduct after 90 days. This would be in early November, just when learners in Grade 6, Standard 8 and Form 4 will be preparing for the national examinations slated for the end of the month.

Such a scenario would require another break to allow for the elections and activities likely to follow. It would also affect the timing of the national examinations, which would have to be rescheduled.

Legal battle

In case the August 9 results are disputed by any of the contestants, a legal battle will ensue.

Candidates who dispute the outcome of the election have seven days to file a presidential petition, which will run to August 23. The Supreme Court will have 14 days to determine the validity of the allegations raised by the petitioners. This could go up to September 6. If the court upholds the result, the winner will be sworn in by September 13. In such a scenario, the school calendar will not be disrupted.

In the event that the court nullifies the election and orders a repeat election, more disruptions to the school calendar would follow.


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