Why skills development is key to new curriculum

Education CS Amina Mohamed flags off a lorry carrying the competency-based curriculum textbooks on January 7. [Beverlyne Musili, Standard]
The new Competence Based curriculum is underway. For majority of learners it begins in Grade 1, for those who had undergone the Grade 3 pilot curriculum, it should be Grade 4. What is not clear to teachers is what pupils who experienced the piloted curriculum should be taught.

In the majority of schools we have visited, learners have gone to standard 4 on old curriculum. They were not assessed externally at Grade 3 as required by the Basic Education Curriculum Framework. In the strictest sense, the piloting was thus never completed.

Kenyans appear to have fallen in the same pit as they did in 1985 when Canadian Collin B Mackay,  invited to explore the possibility of establishing a second university in Kenya, assigned himself the task of recommending change in the education system. The 8.4.4 system proved elephantine. By 1992, the original ideas in the system had been abandoned. Later, 8.4.4 was changed in 2018 without ever having been implemented as Mackay had proposed.

Given the 1985 experience, one would have expected greater circumspection; that this time round the change in curriculum would be Kenyan driven to address Kenyan issues. Is the present curriculum change Kenyan driven? Do the curriculum content, methods and assessment strategies proposed speak our language?

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The language of the new curriculum has nuance of a British system, perhaps to reflect the overbearing role played by Peter Hall Jones and others from the British Council in the development of the curriculum. The Odhiambo Task Force had even recommended that the school year should commence in September.

 Upper Primary 

In the new curriculum, topics are called ‘strands’, subjects ‘Learning Areas’ and standard is ‘Grade’. If we are to develop specific competences, curriculum change should target aspects that deal with skill development.

We teach people to ride bicycles not by talking about it, but showing them how. To develop communication competence, we should provide activities for communication skills to be acquired. Changing the content does not improve the skill.

Competence development revolves around altering how teaching is done. Therefore what should have been revolutionized are the methods of teaching. No one at KICD will admit it. But a fundamental change in CBC is an increased number of subjects pupils have to learn. While 8-4-4 was criticized for overload, CBC offers 9 subjects in Lower Primary and 11 subjects in Upper Primary. 

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In the new curriculum prevocational subjects (Agriculture, Home Science, and Creative Arts) are back on the curriculum.  Has anyone convinced stakeholders that this time round we have the money to teach cake-making to a Grade 6 class of 80?

Educational structure

The 8-4-4 had taken us on that road before. We could not climb it! We walked back to five subjects. It is not correct to imagine that STEM subjects are practical. Home Science may be a vocational subject. However, experience shows that in the absence of equipment for practicals, Home Science, Computer Science, Chemistry, Biology, Electrical Engineering will all be taught theoretically.

Do we really want to teach our children digital literacy? Problem-solving? If we do, then we should understand that these competencies are taught through learner-centred methods. Learners are organized to solve given problems. Learning how to learn may be taught regardless of the educational structure. Teacher education should emphasize more of hands-on practical, games and simulations, case method, dramatization and role play, field visits, flipped classroom and group work.

These methods should form centerpiece of revised teacher education curricula. Use of these methods requires reduced teacher – pupil ratio. It requires more teachers, not more Learning Areas. Research shows that teaching methods make an impact on learner achievement.

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For example, two Kenyan universities teach same content in Management Science. University “A” frequently uses the Case Method.  University ‘B’ uses the Lecture Method.  At the end of the four year programme graduates from university ‘A’ are found to perform better at the work place than graduates from university ‘B’.  Thus, the same content yields different output owing to different methods.

If the World Bank or the UK wishes to help Kenya improve school efficiency they should use their good money to equip schools and to train teachers. Change of content has never constituted an emergency.

Politicians and financial stakeholders should take a backseat and allow educationists to drive the curriculum process. When teachers unions say CBC is good but implementation ought not to be rushed they should be listened to.

It is ironical that the new curriculum was devised to align the education sector with the 2010 Constitution, but the implementation process violets the very constitution.

Professor Khaemba Ongeti, Specialist in Curriculum and Learning Designs, Moi University.

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New curriculumEducation systemCompetence Based curriculum