A first-ever national conference on education took place in Nairobi last week, bringing together a wide range of stakeholders including parents, representatives of trades unions, students, religious leaders, education professionals and governance civil society activists.
The conference was the more remarkable because convening it was the subject of overt political disapproval, which the organisers had to overcome just to make it happen. The Ministry of Education brought forward its parallel event which now coincided, and competed for attention, with the conference. The ministry also piled pressure on the already beleaguered Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) and as a result a sizeable number of its members, who had already registered for the conference, stayed away. Further the ministry chose not to honour an invitation to attend the conference, meaning that no official response to the many questions raised was possible.
One of those questions was the implementation of the Competency Based Curriculum (CBC), which the government initiated at the beginning of the year. The conference noted that although the management of education is a shared responsibility of the national and county governments, the former seems to have unilaterally decided to change the education system as there is no evidence that county governments were ever consulted on the matter.
During the conference, parents shared their experiences on the implementation of the system. There was a universal complaint that the new education system now requires parents to act as teachers, a role that they were not prepared for. Parents also said the new system is too demanding on their time. Parents also complained about the high cost of the new system, some of which goes unacknowledged. What accounts for the higher cost includes the frequent requirement for parents to buy project material. Parents said they have been asked to buy gardening and cleaning tools: spades, brooms, rakes, overalls, wheelbarrows, gloves, dustcoats and dust masks. They also have to buy stationery: marker pens, Manila paper, folders, files. Parents complained that, for low income people, many of these items are expensive.
Further, parents complained that the new education system assumes, without basis, that parents already have a certain lifestyle that can support the requirements made on their children. Parents complained that they are required to send to teachers, on mobile phones, pictures of their children’s projects. The problem is that some parents do not possess smart phones. While there is frequent need to use the internet, parents who live in rural areas with no access to the internet or a printer cannot easily meet the demands of the new system. There was a further complaint that, even where there is access to the internet, all that the new education system has succeeded in doing is to turn children to Google for answers rather than making them learn. A parent from Mandera observed that while the new system requires the cleaning of market places, his home county has few market centres.
Rather than acknowledge these challenges and explore an inclusive way of addressing them, the Ministry of Education has taken a defence position, showing great hostility towards critics of CBC. One of those, the Knut, has been subjected to crippling official action with the government now viewed as having encouraged the formation of the Kenya Women Teachers Association as a way of weakening the original teachers union. Knut also claims that the government is undermining its stability through delays in remitting membership dues deducted by the Teachers Service Commission, and also encouraging teachers to quit the union with promises that they would then get promoted.
While it is Knut that has borne the brunt for daring to question the CBC, the conference was unanimous that the unanswered questions about the new education programme cannot now be wished away. In this regard, other participating trade unions were particularly strongly in their opposition to the CBC. Unfortunately, however, the government has now formed the habit of forcing its way on key public issues including the Standard Gauge Railway, the Big Four Agenda, and lately the Huduma Namba which are projects the implementation of which is proceeding despite the lack of public consensus, even opposition.
Recently there was incident in which Education Cabinet Secretary, George Magoha, lamented the lack of plumbers in his Yala home, a fact that forced him to seek one in distant Kisumu. As Yala has only a small number of houses with plumbing, not many plumbers will reside there and his lamentations were misplaced. As the conference observed, however, Magoha’s lamentations are symptomatic of the tendency of government officials to plan with themselves, rather than the poor public, in mind. The conference noted that the CBC is based on the assumption of a higher economic status than the general public possesses. In this regard, while the rich can cope with CBC, the poor will struggle. CBC will exacerbate economic inequality.
- The writer is the executive director at KHRC. [email protected]