Any education reform must begin with well-trained teachers

For purposes of focus on the ongoing education reforms; we must ask the question: Who are we reforming the system for?

This question is critical since the sector is at a crossroads. The conciseness of the action and the precision needed is enormous. We must “cross the Rubicon” as it were! The shift must be about the national thinking on how we teach and what our children learn in school.

For this to happen, we must begin by explaining to our teaching force that doing the same thing the same way will not yield different results. We must invest more in how we prepare our teachers since they are at the front-line of implementing and breathing life into the competencies the new curriculum that we will require them to deliver.

The new curriculum proposes that there should be a more universal emphasis on transversal or cross-cutting competencies. These are a broad range of knowledge, skills, attitudes, work habits and character traits that are nurtured and developed through conscious education decisions to prepare the learners to succeed in the modern world.

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Transversal competencies

Transversal competencies are applied skills, cross-curricular skills, cross-disciplinary, transferable, and non-cognitive soft skills.

The skills include but are not limited to interpersonal skills, intrapersonal skills, media and information literacy, global citizenship, critical and innovative thinking and other skills that revolve around the appreciation of a healthy lifestyle and respect for religious values and piety.

Our learners need to be guided and assessed on their ability to obtain and analyse information through ICT; their ability to critically evaluate information and media content and put that it to good use and lastly, the ethical utilisation of ICT and the attendant infrastructure.

As we reform the system; we need to continually ask ourselves as a nation if our legislation, policies, investment choices and frameworks lend support to the practice and development of transversal competencies.

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For this to connect with the general populace; some form of national dialogue and debate on the purpose and practice of basic education must begin in earnest. This debate must be moderated in a way that ideology and slogans get replaced by analysis, evidence and sound argument. We must not only ask hard questions but also suggest practical ways in which the children of this nation should be educated.

Research has shown that superior technology and relevant teaching and learning materials in the hands of an ill-prepared and trained teacher do not make a difference. The reverse-a well prepared and trained teacher can yield up to 70 percent improvement in learning outcomes even when starved of extra support and materials!

We must re-engineer the content in our teacher training colleges and universities to ensure we train, nurture and produce a new crop of educators who will return the education sector to the citadel of excellence. In-service teacher training needs to help bridge any existing gaps.

National examinations

The second step in the reform process should entail re-designing our national examination and assessment process to ensure we assess the learners only after we have assessed teachers! As matters stand, the Kenya National Examinations Council is assessing learners jointly with teachers.

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This is evident by the finger pointing that follows the release of every national examination results.

To assess transversal competencies we must begin by realising that they are developmental in nature; that their beauty lies in their being higher and broader processes- they do not rely on cramming of content, its storage and retrieval- which is the greatest weakness with the current system!

Under the proposed education reform package, assessment will target the learner’s capacity to process and use information, their developing competencies, and not their ability to store and recall facts.

Going forward, we need to invest our resources in understanding the nature of processes that involve transversal skills; set out to know how these skills look like in their rudimentary form and understand how they progressively transform during the learning process.

Teachers need to be guided on how to facilitate the assessment of collaboration and critical thinking to give feedback on the totality of the learning experience for each student, more so for those with special learning needs.

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Mr Wesaya is an Education and Strategy Expert at Tathmini Consulting. [email protected]

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