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Curriculum has nothing do with indiscipline in our schools at all

Students at Kahuhia Girls High School in Murang'a County trying their hand in a science laboratory being assisted by their teachers. [Boniface Gikandi, Standard]

A little under two weeks ago, Tik Toker Eric attributed the indiscipline that gripped high schools last year to several factors. In a widely shared video, Eric, who claimed to be a student, alleged that students found the knowledge they were acquiring meaningless. All that students require are skills they will use to earn a living—not useless knowledge.

He argued that students have diverse abilities and talents. That is correct. He, however, added that it was unfair to give such a varied group of students similar knowledge. That is incorrect. The purpose of the 12 years of basic Education is to nurture and cultivate certain specific powers of the mind, heart and the body which have application in all human endeavours. All human beings have innate powers or potential reposed in the mind, heart and the body.

It is the purpose of the school system to identify and nurture these diverse abilities, aptitudes and talents. It is the reason all children need the same nurturing of intellect, the heart and the body. The secondary curriculum caters for the learning needs of all students. It gives students with different aptitudes, interests and abilities full play to their potential. It also provides greater learning space and widens students' knowledge base for all-round development.

Upon entry into secondary education under the 8-4-4 system, all students study a broad and balanced curriculum. In forms One and Two, the students study Mathematics, English, Kiswahili, Science, the arts and vocational subjects. The exposure is meant to help learners discover what abilities and interests they have, and study those subjects in line with their abilities and inclination upon joining Form Three. This is the reason there are optional subjects to choose from in Form Three.

The curriculum experience that students are exposed to in secondary education is for that reason, broad enough to cater for the differences in talents and to anticipate the variety of opportunities open to the students after completing the secondary education programme. The knowledge the prescribed curriculum embodies is not useless. The body of knowledge designed for students in high school provides the foundation for advanced education and training at tertiary and university levels. 

American Historian and Educator, Arthur E Bestor, observed: “Simple forms of knowledge can accomplish simple tasks, complex forms of knowledge can accomplish complex tasks. One does not need higher mathematics to build a workable waterwheel or an oxcart, but one does need it to build a dynamo or a jet plane.” The quality and profoundness of knowledge contained in secondary education prepare students for the complex tasks that are commensurate with people who have had secondary education experience.

The body of knowledge provides the foundation stone for successful study of all manner of courses and careers—subject to the master of the core knowledge or subject for the careers or courses in question. One of the defining features of any education system worth its name is what is called curriculum coherence. This ensures that all the learning experiences students go through are well organised and purposefully designed to facilitate learning. Moreover, they are free of academic gaps and needless repetitions, and, last but not least, the learning experiences are aligned and logically connected within the subjects and across the entire curriculum.

Curriculum coherence enables the students to see the connectedness of what they learn to previous concepts they learned in a given subject and, which is crucial, that they also see the relationships of every other subject they are learning to their overall intellectual, emotional and moral development. With this, students see meaning, and purpose in the learning experiences. A highly motivated student will find the learning experience meaningful intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.

The interaction with the curriculum content stretches the mind of the student, and in the process, develops the ability for inquiry, critical thinking and rational judgment. The students simultaneously build a firm foundation for further education and training—in the basic or applied sciences at tertiary or university level. Those who, for whatever reason, don’t get into university or tertiary institutions, simply get into the bustles of life, more rational, with the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes for the development of the self and the nation.

Some of the human documents students are exposed to in the Arts—particularly in Literature, Kiswahili, History and Religious Education and even in the hard sciences, embody a cultural and intellectual heritage of humankind. Properly taught and learned, they provide meaning to students that helps to define their own identities as human beings in a cosmic universe we know little about as mankind.

The curriculum in basic education and in high school in particular provides four things for learners. First, it provides students with a broad knowledge base, for whatever careers they take after school. Second, it provides them with an aptitude for life-long learning and the readiness to venture into new frontiers of knowledge whenever necessary. Third, it also helps them to appreciate the complexities and ambiguities of life—finally enabling them to be more understanding, and respectful of other people's cultures and their place in contemporary society.

Fourth, it helps them discover their abilities, talents and inclinations, thereby enabling them to make choices about their post-secondary life. The secondary education experience is meaningful to motivate learners. The learning thereof is intelligent interaction with the curriculum and not cramming as “Eric” claimed. In itself the secondary education curriculum, the 8-4-4 syllabus has nothing to do with the students’ indiscipline. There is no correlation between arson on hostels and the curriculum. The curriculum is an excuse rather than the cause for the students’ unruliness.