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Will proposed CBC task force succeed where other have failed?

Grade 4 learners at St Peters Elite school in Gilgil during the Competency-Based Curriculum practicals at the school. [File, Standard]

The crowds at Kasarani Stadium cheered wildly when the President promised to establish a presidential task force to engage stakeholders on the controversial Competency Based Curriculum (CBC) transition.

The President hit the right notes in the right tone.

A balanced approach to those for its abolishment and those against, a development in the education that has faced the harshest criticism in a decade, one whose implementation has been a bitter pill to swallow, taken contestation and even attracted public litigation.

To those who have all along argued that CBC (whether seen as a curriculum, concept, or system of education) was irretrievably flawed, a moment of reckoning had come.

By admitting that there was room to listen to the increasing mass of critics of the CBC reform process, the President was saying a big no to the confusion, chest-thumping, tough talk, twisted evidence and shenanigans that have characterised the abrasive leadership at Jogoo House for close to seven years.

Without appearing to misinterpret Ruto’s intention, the events and debate in the last two weeks reveal the sad reality that it has not dawned on many that the yet-to-be-formed task force faces a difficult, arduous, and long journey. The untold storms coming from the heated discussion on who should shepherd this process have dominated the discourse away from what would make the task force deliver on its yet-to-be-made public mandate.

Kenyans need to appreciate that using presidential task forces to resolve education dilemmas is not a new phenomenon. Yet, there is little to write home about this parallel policy formulation process.

Kenyans will recall that among these taskforces and commissions include the famous Phelps Stokes Report of 1934, the Ominde Report of 1963/4, the Gachathi Report of 1971, the Mackay Report of 1984, the Kamunge Report of 1986, the Koech Report of 1999, the Odhiambo Report of 2012 and most recently the Fatuma Chege Report of 2021.

It has been an established norm to turn to task forces to resolve dilemmas even where the directorates of policy and planning exist within the Ministry of Education and beyond.

In what appears to be the pattern, the taskforces are mostly inward looking, which take a long to weave recommendations (most of whom are just mere statements of aspirations and would not meet any implementation feasibility). With an average lifespan of two years, task forces in education lack accountability mechanisms, and their appointing authorities are not duty bound to implement their recommendations, dwarfing their utility even more.

Furthermore, most task force recommendations are not only too many to grasp but also incoherent. The recent case of the Fatuma Chege Taskforce that gave the country over 100 recommendations is evidence enough that they have largely not addressed the problems in education.

These systemic issues in previous task forces in education provide a glimpse of the challenges that the yet-to-be-formed task force faces. From the formulation of the terms of reference (and accompanying deliverables), the period, the constitution of the membership, the operational structure, and the accountability framework, the yet-to-be-formed Taskforce will have quite a mouthful to chew.

The country waits with bated breath as the deadline for the twin transition beckons. In less than 100 days, the parent community, particularly for the 12-year-olds in the pioneer Grade Six, needs specific answers on where their children will be placed, let alone how much they will pay as fees.

Will this task force deviate from the ugly history? The jury is out there.

The writer is a commentator on education