Sweeping markets will clean more than dirt

In the past few weeks we have seen Grade Three pupils trooping to markets and other public places to fulfill the demands of Activity Area of Environmental Activity, one of the subjects in the new curriculum.

One of the areas where the competence-based curriculum (CBC) differs from the 8-4-4 system is community service learning. This entails learners getting out of the comfort of their  classrooms to render services to the communities neighbouring their schools under the guidance of their teachers to reinforce what they learned in class.

This is what we were treated to last week. Of course, it caught many of us unawares and shocked and surprised some.

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What we have to remember is that in competence-based education from where we get our CBC, learning is activity-based. This represents the sea change that separates content from the concept-based curriculum.

All sub-forms of the latter are activity-based and seek to see how the learner applies the knowledge learned. The 8-4-4 system is content or objective based, hence emphasis is on knowledge acquisition rather than how it is applied.

This explains the crowds of adults that were wondering what had gone wrong with our teachers who were making a ‘mockery’ of both their children and their intelligence by making the pupils to clean the markets.

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Oh no! The teachers were right. Learners were applying what they had learned in class while at the same time serving the community. This is something that has lacked in our education system since independence. It explains the care-free attitude we have had for community resources.

The colonialists made us to be very individualistic, hence too self-centered. Anything that we collectively own is seen as ‘mali ya umma’ which should be taken for personal benefit. The downside of this mentality is widespread  corruption as hustlers compete with the rich to amass wealth by looting from our national coffers.

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I have always held the view that the CBC is the best gift our curriculum developer has bequeathed us. Although it might not be the panacea, it will help solve a myriad of the challenges that we face. However this is only if we get its implementation right. Luckily this is being done.

Back to the story of our children trooping to various places to demonstrate to us what we should have done as adults. A visit to most public spaces shows how negligent we have been as adults. All of us care less for the well-being of what belongs to the community or the State. Of course, we can’t solely put the blame on our education system but it has a hand in our callous attitude to public property.

Hopefully, the CBC may change this. To understand why the teachers took  learners for a “field trip” to the local market or any other public place, we should look at the principles of the competency-based education.

A few that explain this are: Assessment for learning, learning activities taking place in different authentic situations, integration of knowledge, skills and attitudes in teaching and assessment processes, stimulation of learner self-responsibility and reflection, balancing teacher’s role as coach and expert and  establishment of a basis for a life-long learning attitude in the learner.

It is upon these principles that we have to situate the community service learning activities that marveled us. Where the teachers perhaps went wrong was their failure to notify parents of the planned community service activities.

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Nonetheless, we need to understand that as per the requirements of the CBC, learners must go out of their schools to undertake the exercise.

As the teachers were guiding the learners in the clean-up activities, they were striving to facilitate acquisition of various core competencies. Key of which were  communication, creativity and imagination, co-operation, self-efficacy, citizenship and learning to learn.

These are crucial 21st century skills in school and the world of work. If you watched the learners keenly, you would have seen them demonstrating these skills as they carried out the clean-up exercise.

However, organising the activity is never a walk in the park for both the teachers and parents or guardians. It comes with challenges in terms of time and management for the teacher while for the parent, the hidden financial cost can’t be wished away.

But as you already know, ignorance is more costly than anything else in the world. This is the reason we should not tire in investing in these children by giving them the best education the world can offer.

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Our solemn prayer is that we should keep the tempo. Let us follow the principles and practices of the CBC to the letter in its implementation. Those of us who saw the first batch of the 8-4-4 learners will attest to the fact that at its inception the system was very practical.

Learners were taken through practicals for various technical subjects but somewhere down the line, we reverted to the academic orientation of its precursor which was marked with cutthroat competition for grades in summative evaluations. That is where most of the problems in our school system began. Let’s hope this spectre will not visit the CBC.

But as we take our learners through the community service learning, a few home truths need to be borne in mind by our teachers. One is the safety of our learners. Two is that at times, creativity needs not involve re-inventing the wheel.

We can use proper clothing, wheelbarrows, gloves, spades and other equipment to make the work of learners easy and less comedic. And lastly, the Ministry of Education needs to scale up parental empowerment and engagement so that whenever learners are engaging in community service activities, we don’t look at them as if they are specimens from outer space! Nevertheless, let’s give a thumbs up to both our teachers and the ministry.

Dr Ndaloh teaches at Moi University. [email protected]

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