Teachers are split on where junior secondary education (JSE) will be taught, raising fresh questions about the implementation of the new curriculum.
The question they are grappling with is whether learners will undertake the proposed three years of study in primary or secondary schools.
It is also unclear whether the JSE will be an entirely independent level of education with new management structures and schools.
The two rival teachers' unions both say their members should be responsible for administering the new education level in the new Competency Based Curriculum (CBC).
It does not help matters that top education officials are non-committal on the matter. Last week, the head of the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD), which is at the centre of the national roll-out of the CBC, failed to give head teachers a clear answer during their annual conference.
Under the 2-6-3-3-3 system, learners will spend two years in pre-primary education, six years in primary, three years in junior secondary, and another three years in senior secondary.
With the number of years spent in primary education reduced to six from the current eight, education stakeholders cannot agree whether the next stage of learning – junior secondary – should be an independent institution or embedded in primary and secondary school premises.
It is also not clear whether the Teachers Service Commission will employ a new management team or deploy primary or secondary teaching staff to manage the new education level.
But just days after most stakeholders endorsed the CBC roll-out at the secondary school heads meeting in Mombasa, the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) and Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) are already pulling in different directions with each keen to protect its turf.
The giant unions are competing to ring-fence their members from the possibility of a CBC-driven re-organisation, which its is feared will lead to the loss of members.
If the Education ministry places JSE under primary schools, it will mean Kuppet will lose teachers to Knut, while the opposite will be true if JSE is placed under secondary schools.
KICD has already distanced itself from the debate, saying only the Education minister can give direction on the matter.
“I cannot tell you where the junior secondary will be anchored because this is a policy issue in the ministry. The Cabinet Secretary is better placed to explain this,” said KICD Chief Executive Officer Jwan Julius.
Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha had earlier also skirted around the issue during a function at KICD.
"Nobody has made any decision as to where Year Seven and Eight are going to be. We are still engaging and I will put a small advisory task force so that we breathe through this.
"It may be wise for the money we are saving from the universities to take the two classes into the secondary school. We also have to consider putting a child in primary school for nine years; it's almost criminal,” Prof Magoha said.
The statement by Magoha appeared to open a window for further stakeholder engagement on the matter.
Knut, which currently represents majority of teachers in primary schools, fears that if the junior section is moved to secondary school, its teachers may move to the rival union.
Speaking to The Standard, Knut Secretary General Wilson Sossion downplayed the debate, saying the union does not support the new curriculum.
“We do not support the CBC and so there is nothing to debate about,” said Mr Sossion.
But sources in the union expressed deep fears over union membership. "It is true that if junior school is moved to high school, the union will lose many members, and this will be a point of conflict," said a top Knut official.
Documents tabled by Knut last week revealed that the union currently has a membership of 187,537 teachers.
Rival Kuppet Secretary General Akello Misori also skirted around the topic but hinted at the union's position.
Mr Misori said the debate about domestication (of junior school) is not relevant at the moment, but added that the philosophy behind the 2–6–3–3–3 system is what matters.
“Transition issues will fit in the orientation of the implementation matrix that has clearly indicated: Two years early learning, six years primary, three years junior secondary, three senior secondary and three years of university/college,” said Misori.
Secondary school heads have also supported the Kuppet view that junior secondary be anchored in high school.
Even though Kenya Secondary School Heads Association (Kessha) national chairman Kahi Indimuli said the decision would be arrived at after curriculum designs for junior school are out, he hinted at domestication of JSE in high school.
“Making a decision now would be simplistic without the designs, but there will be many other factors other than infrastructure that will come into play,” said Mr Indimuli.
He said the decision will be made based on content to be taught, infrastructure and manpower needs, among other factors. “And so if the primary level will be able to handle it, so be it."
Primary school heads yesterday said they may lack the technical capability to anchor the junior school level.
Kenya Primary School Heads Association national chairman Nicholas Gathemia said the move to anchor the junior schools in high schools would help expand primary institutions.
“We are trained as primary school teachers. And so it may be a challenge to handle the junior school depending on what they will be taught,” said Mr Gathemia.
The debate has also brought to the fore a draft Bill by former legislator Joyce Lay that proposed principals be hired to manage junior secondary schools.
Section 10 of the Basic Education (Amendment) Bill, 2015 proposed changes to Section 59 A (1) to read: “There shall be a principal who shall be responsible for the management of the primary and junior secondary school.”
Under 59 A (2), the Bill says: “There shall be appointed one head teacher to be in charge of the junior secondary education and one head teacher to be in charge of the primary school education."
Ms Lay yesterday said the Bill was shelved to allow for piloting of the new curriculum. “The Bill is with the National Assembly Education Committee. It was tabled there but they requested that the matter be revisited after the roll-out starts."
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