It is a few minutes to 10.30am when I am ushered into Grade 1 B at St Catherine’s Primary School in time for the final lesson before break.
The class is switching from Mathematics to English activities.
This will be the final 30-minute lesson before pupils are released to make use of the addictive swings and see-saws in the adjacent field. The school in Nairobi’s South B area is among thousands around Kenya that are giving young learners an experiential feel of what lies ahead in the new curriculum.
It is a quiet Thursday morning, and the class of 34 is in the third week of the Competence-Based Training, oblivious of the challenges and preparations that have gone into place to get here.
The lesson starts with the usual greeting of “good morning class”, which is met by a powerful response from the expectant pupils, who roar back, “good morning teacher Rachael”.
Ms Rachael Njuguna starts her next class with a recollection of what they learnt the previous day. She is the only one with a text book. The pupils, all 34 of them, are still waiting for the books to arrive. But this does not kill her spirit.
After a patient attempt to stir the pupils’ memories on what they learnt, one eventually is awakened, to her relief, when he shoots an answer. Then more answers pour in as more pupils remember their previous lesson.
Today, she is going to read a story, and the title is Sam Tells a Story. The story is about a boy and a girl.
After the story, there are questions testing the listening and comprehension abilities of the learners. Little writing is happening at this point. There will be a session for class discussion where pupils turn to one another to give talk about what they have learnt from the story.
It is easy to see why the new learners will be better-prepared for the job market. This new Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) is set to replace the 8-4-4 system that has been faulted for being examinations-oriented.
Graduates of the 8-4-4 system at secondary school level have been seen as coming out without adequate entrepreneurial skills for self-reliance.
Apart from the high unemployment arising from this phenomenon, there was also the risk of the emergence of social vices such as increased crime, drug abuse and antisocial behaviour.
To cure the 8-4-4 problems, the new curriculum champions identification and nurturing of learner’s potentials and talents in preparation for life and the world of work. It is geared towards making learning enjoyable.
The new curriculum has re-organised basic education into three levels - early years, middle school and senior school.
It introduces the 2-6-3-3 System of education which puts emphasis on seven core competences, among them communication and collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving, creativity and imagination, citizenship, digital literacy, learning to learn and self-efficacy.
Teacher Rachael -- who must be a jack of all trades, teaching all the subjects from Math to religious studies -- says the new syllabus is a lot more practical and more centred around the child.
Some of the practical aspects of her English class would include movement of lips and pupils roar back the sounds and words her lips are forming.
To make the learning very practical, most of the units are now activity-oriented. For instance, Kiswahili is now called Kiswahili Activities, while English is English Activities. The other course is literacy. These three units have been clustered in Volume One of the curriculum design.
Volume two has Mathematics Activities, Environmental Activities and Hygiene and Nutrition Activities. What used to be social studies is now Environmental Activities while science is now Hygiene and Nutrition Activities.
Volume Three of the curriculum design has the Christian Religious Education, Hindu Religious Education and Islamic Religious Education.
The final volume has Creative and Movement Activities. Schools in urban areas such as Nairobi have kept off teaching mother tongue as a subject. During this time, students are asked to read story books instead, to boost their English and Kiswahili proficiency.
In total, learners are expected to have 35 lessons per week, which translates to seven every day.
Some of the practical activities in hygiene and nutrition, for instance, include washing hands, cleaning their noses, washing their handkerchiefs and so on,” Ms Njuguna says.
Activities in English are geared towards phonological awareness, letter knowledge, word reading, comprehension and pupil text reading among others.
Towards the end of her class, the pupil books she has been marking fall off her desk. More than 10 pupils swiftly dash from their desks to help pick them and place them back neatly where they were, without her asking.
We head to the Grade 3G, which is on the opposite block. We are in Teacher Magdalene Mutinda’s class at 11.30am. Pupils are now livelier, perhaps fresh from a well-deserved break.
On the middle upper part of the blackboard are hard-to-miss values that she wants to inculcate in her pupils. It’s about polite words. Here, the class stares at eight important words every time they raise up their eyes to copy what she has written on the board.
May I. Please. Pardon. Welcome. Thank you. Sorry. Excuse me.
The timetable reads CRE, but due to lack of books, she is forced to improvise. She decides to teach Hygiene and Nutrition Activities instead. The essence of this unit is to equip learners with basic knowledge, skills and attitudes that promote a happy and healthy lifestyle.
Pupils are still struggling to come to terms with the change of name from science to hygiene and nutrition. She has to remind them this at the beginning of the lesson. Some had arrived from home with their notebooks already written Science. She says they will soon adjust.
Her lesson is about oral hygiene. It is a continuation of what was taught the previous day. After spending the first five minutes or so recollecting with the pupils what yesterday’s class was about, she plunges into the day’s subject matter, which dwells heavily on common teeth problems.
With the only text book she has, she walks from one desk to the other showing four pictures of how people who have not taken good care of their teeth end up.
The pictures include one with tooth cavities, the other has teeth that are not in one line, the third has mouth sores and the last one shows teeth where the new one is bigger than the older one, due to delays in pulling out of teeth when they come of age.
Learners would later be asked to draw the four pictures in their note books. Ms Mutinda says her practical part of the class would have a role play where a number of pupils will be asked to dramatise an aspect of problems of poor oral hygiene.
A pupil would act as one with bad breath and the other one with good oral hygiene. That way, the direct impact of not taking care of their teeth is more visible and relatable. It is hard to forget after the dramatisation happens.
In Environmental Activities, learners are required to identify common accidents in the classroom and make effort to attend to some of the things that pose danger in school.
Using pictures and videos, learners are guided to identify causes of common accidents such as head knocks, rough surfaces, sharp objects and so on. In groups, they then listen to stories and share their experiences with those who have been in any accidents.
In most of the subjects, teachers are encouraged to use various learning resources to make their classes as engaging as possible. These include what is found in their local environment, real objects, specimen, maps, photographs, pictures and paintings.
Others are flash cards and posters, television, video film, slides as well as internet sources. Other learning resources include live radio broadcasts, vetted digital resources, educational computer games, artifacts, newspaper cuttings, display boards among others.
Learners as early as Grade 3 are also now taught various ways families make money. In groups, they then discuss rightful ways to make money. Thereafter, they will be asked to find out more from their parents or guardians on rightful ways of earning money.
But it is the assessment rubrics that is drastically going to change. Learners will now be graded as either below expectation, approaching expectation, meets expectation or exceeds expectation.
For learners with various impairments, the teacher has been given various tools to ensure that they are not left behind. Learners whose hearing is impaired must be allowed to sit at the nearest point to the teacher. For those who are visually impaired, they should either sit near the teacher or far from the board depending on whether they can see well or not.
I remember to say ‘thank you’ to the class as I walk out, to which the class responds with a loud and warm ‘welcome’ as I exit the compound.