Mixed signals on the fate of new curriculum not good for country

Education CS Amina Mohamed(L) and her PS.Belio Kipsang when they appeared before the Senate Education Committee at Parliament on Tuesday 11/12/18 [Photo: [Boniface Okendo,Standard]

In his Jamhuri Day speech yesterday, President Uhuru Kenyatta outlined his government’s plan to improve education. However, in light of new developments in the Ministry of Education, his silence on the fate of the new curriculum was not reassuring and left many questions unanswered.

Admittedly, senior Ministry of Education officials appear to be working at cross purposes; feeding the public on contradicting information that has caused confusion and anxiety. A few days ago while addressing a National Leadership Forum in Nairobi, Education Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang was upbeat that with 100,000 teachers already trained on the Competency-Based Curriculum, the 2-6-3-3-3 system of education earmarked to replace the 8-4-4 system would be rolled out next month.

A pilot project involving nearly 5 million pupils has been running for one year in three classes- Grades 1-3.

Education Cabinet Secretary (CS) Amina Mohammed, appearing before a Senate committee on Tuesday, released a bombshell; the country was ill-prepared to roll out the new system of education. According to Ms Mohammed, the government has "realised" that there was "a lack of broad consultations, preparedness and few trained teachers" to start off the programme.

The question then arises; what prompted this seemingly belated realization that risks derailing the bold reforms in the education sector. Wasn’t the government prepared beforehand? And who takes the blame?

According to Ms Mohammed, choosing the lesser evil- dropping plans for the new curriculum was better than rolling out a half-baked programme.

To parents and the pupils, however, the difference is not apparent.

To them, Ms Mohammed's assertion is akin to throwing out the baby with the bathwater. That will surely be expensive.

Already, secure in the knowledge the Competency-Based Curriculum was on course, a majority of parents and pupils have invested emotionally and even bought text books at great cost in preparation for the first term in January. Who will shoulder their losses and sunk cost, especially now that they have to dig deeper into their pockets to get new books that conform to the 8-4-4 system of education?

How will the pupils who underwent the two-year pilot programme of the new curriculum be made to fit into the 8-4-4 system without missing out on something? And what about the teachers and tutors who had been immersed into the new curriculum that emphasizes what learners are expected to do rather than mainly focusing on what they are expected to know.

In principle, unlike the 8-4-4 system which was deemed teacher-centred and promoted rote-learning, the CBC curriculum is learner-centred and adaptive to the changing needs of students, teachers, and the larger society.

To abandon it mid-way will sure be a big blow to many Kenyans who had wearied of the 8-4-4 system. And though most of the schools that piloted the project lacked essential learning tools, the Kenya Institute of Curriculum concluded that the implementation was above average. Best international practice is at 50 per cent.  

Moreover, seeing an opportunity in the roll-out, book publishers went out their way to ensure the requisite text books were available. Additionally, taxpayers’ money was spent while trying to put the idea of the new curriculum together and make it work. Should the new curriculum not be rolled out, all that will be money down the drain?

Yet it is the message the mixed signals about the impending roll-out of the curriculum that ought to worry us.

It is what we saw when the High Court recently stopped the Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed from lowering entry grades to teacher training colleges; the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) and the Ministry of Education are not reading from different scripts.

When these tax-funded institutions fail to understand their roles, yet their mandates are clearly stipulated, it can only mean that something is not being done right somewhere. At the very least, they should save our children the circus.

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Jamhuri DayPresident Uhuru Kenyatta8-4-4 systemBelio KipsangAmina Mohammed