• Private schools want candidates to report to school in October for three months, refresh before doing their exams in December.
• Headteachers disagree, argue that at the earliest exams can be conducted at the end of February.
A meeting on Monday could decide whether schools will open before January 1.
Private schools and school heads have urged the state to reopen schools in October for finalists in primary and seconary schools.
January had been set for the reopening date, provided the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic has passed.
The meeting was called by Education CS George Magoha at the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development.
If the proposal is adopted, 1.7 million students will report back to school.
The Kenya Private Schools Association also wants the KCPE and KCSE exams to be conducted by December.
Proponents of earlier opening say students will not need to cover the entire remaining part of the syllabus. They say an exam can be customised to cover up to Form 3.
Mutheu Kasanga, the Kenya Private Schools Association chair, argues the government should provide exams for the period the students had covered.
"International schools were able to transition all their learners without an examination... they used other parameters. Why do we want to make examinations a matter of life and death?" he asked.
Although most head teachers support reopening in October, they disagree on early exams, and argue that exams at the earliest can be administered at the end of February.
But the Kenya National Union of Teachers faults both reopening before January and early examinations as premature.
Wilsom Sossion, KNUT secretary general, says institutions are not ready to reopen, even to accommodate just the candidates.
Sossion said the union will not support opening before January.
"Part of the reason we closed schools is to allow for preparations to reopen - have we done that?" Sossion asked.
But Indimuli Kahi, the Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association chairman, said schools can accommodate candidates comfortably without stretching resources.
Kahi said principals support the idea of candidates returning to school in October but oppose having exams before the end of the year.
"There is a lot of unlearning that has taken place over the lockdown period. A lot of children have not been engaging academically and this derails what they had gained... We need to be fair and allow enough time to all candidates to prepare," he said.
The principals say if exams are to be held, then February should be the earliest possible date.
But for the principals, the bigger picture lies in the lack of preparedness to accommodate subsequent reopening of other classes.
"There is no preparation that has been done in schools since they closed and how then will we be able to accommodate the other students?" Kahi asked.
Already, nine medical colleges have been cleared to allow resumption of on-campus learning for final year students.
Magoha has maintained that parents will have to stay with their children until it is safe to return to physical classrooms. He has said it's better to have a living child at home than a dead one succumbing to th virus after premature opening of schools.
(Edited by J. Muchangi)