Away with 8-4-4: Here is why I am looking forward to the new system

Mohamed Guleid: It is a huge relief that the new curriculum will reduce the burden on the children to study just to pass their national examinations [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]
Every morning, I feel a certain sympathy as I see off primary school going children. The journey to school starts at 5.30am. First, they trudge along to the gate with bags full of books, lunch box, a large bottle of water. I feel pity for my four-year-old who must get into a bus at 5.30am in the morning so that he can be at school at 7.30am. Often, they engage in a ride-about-town picking up children from a dozen or so other estates.

As a school-going child, many years ago, I remember we used to walk to school at about 7.30am. We would arrive at around 8am for the school parade, a little dusty, but dashing with energy. In my school bag back then, there were hardly any books maybe a few exercise books, most probably cut into two. School assignments were done at school in between the lessons. One would imagine this early morning ritual is a consequence of living in the city. This is far from the truth. Even in small towns nowadays, I see children running to school way before dawn. They say this is all because of the 8-4-4 system of education.

The burden

I always wonder how something that was hailed as progressive and modern ended up being so burdensome. It is a huge relief that the new curriculum will reduce the burden on the children to study just to pass their national examinations. I remember when the 8-4-4 was introduced it was a borrowed concept from Canada and the expectation was to prepare our children for the job market. Will the new system - with all the good plans- lead to a repeat of the challenges brought about by the 8-4-4 system?

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I am quite hopeful that the new curriculum launched recently will make life a little easier for our children. Of course they say life is never easy, but then to subject children to such a tortuous routine is unfair and in the end costly. What I have with my children is a system that denies them the chance to grow as social beings. The Kenya Institute for Curriculum Development (KIDP) developed the new curriculum to replace the 8-4-4 system that has been in existence for more than two decades. The 8-4-4- system has been criticized for being heavily loaded in terms of content and exam oriented, putting undue pressure on students by promoting rote-learning. The new 2-6-6-3 system presents a paradigm shift on how the learning process takes place.

It places more emphasis on learners’ mental ability to process issues and proposes a practical framework that nurtures competencies of learners based on their passions and talents. A lot of emphasis is put on Continuous Assessment Tests (CATs) over one-off examinations that has been proven inadequate tool to assess a learner.  Therefore, at the point of transition to secondary school there shall be no national examination to sift the candidates.

The challenges

Yet the path to its implementation is not paved. First of all, I believe the most challenging aspect would be the cost factor. Remember the new curriculum is meant to ensure all the children transition to secondary education. This means more than a million more vacancies in secondary schools, thus increasing the demand for the secondary education five- fold. This will require more teachers, more classrooms, and other facilities. Currently the TSC recruits close to 5,000 teachers annually. According to some estimates, more than 50,000 will be needed annually. Besides, secondary schools are to choose from three carrier pathways based on a child’s interest. One of the main objectives of this new system is to allow more children to acquire technical skills and supply sufficient technical experts into the labour market.  Many schools therefore might opt to choose technical subjects as one of the pathways.

Considering the drastic surge in the number of students who will be admitted to secondary schools, those which are not fully equipped will have to deploy more resources to establish all the infrastructural facilities required to fulfil the needs of the students to follow the carrier path they choose.  Another significant challenge is to manage the system in such a way that it stays credible. The children are to be tested under a CAT system and teachers can recommend which carrier path the students might pursue. This, from experience, can lead to very bitter confrontations with parents. Most parents expect the best career for their children.

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Matters will get tricky when a teacher recommends that a student pursues a career path that the parent doesn’t want. But nonetheless, the new curriculum offers a fresh breath of air.

Mr Guleid is a governance consultant

education sectoreducation reforms8-4-4 system