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We owe our children an education system that will guarantee equity

Dorcas Odonya, teacher sprints as she takes Grade 3 East pupils at Central Primary school in Kisumu through P.E lessons on January 09,2020. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

The confusion at Jogoo House on the Competency Based Curriculum (CBC) and other key policy directives could potentially cause intergenerational harm to the national economic competitiveness.

I have avoided voicing my thoughts on this column on CBC for one primary reason. That is, I belong to the generation of what technically would qualify as a pure pioneer cohort of the now unjustly disgraced 8.4.4 system.

In joined class one in a primary school located in a remote village within Machakos County in January 1985. This is the year 8.4.4 was introduced as the national education system. Obviously, there was not even the remotest chance that I could have any option on the type or quality of education to receive for two main reasons: one, I come from a lineage of intergenerational poverty; and two, I was too young to understand anything.

Therefore, my die was cast right from birth. I could only partake what the government prescribed for the country as the official curriculum. Yet, my story is no different from that of millions of innocent children born into economically disadvantaged families across the country. The simple point here is that the government policy choices on the national educational curriculumn and system has definitive consequential socio-economic impacts across generations.

With the exception of minority wealthy individuals, the average household cannot afford alternative educational systems in any country. This may explain why most countries rarely undertake curriculum overhaul. While adaption and modification of a national curriculum is inevitable, a complete overhaul must be extremely well thought out, informed by impeachable empirical evidence and executed with a military precision.

There cannot be any guinea pigs or experimentations with the lives of children who have no right of choice on a service that permanently defines what they do or who they become in their latter years. On this article today, I shall wear three caps: that of a pure 8.4.4 generation, a parent to children who have been under the Competency Based Curriculum and finally that of a champion of evidence based policies to influence economic growth.

No evidence

To adequately fit into these three caps, there are three important disclosures that I have to make. First, six years down the line, I am yet to find any comprehensive or persuasive empirical evidence that informed the drastic and militancy kind of overhaul of the 8.4.4 system. If anyone has any such documented evidence, I would love to see it.

Second, am yet to meet or engage with any policy maker or implementer of the curriculum who can tangibly demonstrate which countries have successfully done what we doing in CBC and how ours compares to theirs.

On this second point, I must add that have had the privilege to share a table with people who were at the heart of the design, development, planning for the implementation and monitoring of CBC. Thirdly, at personal level, I have always wondered what my generation and those of the four decades since the introduction of 8.4.4 must make off the sweeping condemnation of a system that our own government subjected us to.

We did not have any choice nor has anybody demonstrated that we are incompetent or uncompetitive in today’s modern economic systems. In any case, we have been at the heart of the market disruptions attributable to the Y-generation; we have effectively adapted to the revolutions of the age of internet of things and globalization; and our siblings in the system are driving the digital era innovations and the gig economies. As pioneers of the 8.4.4 system we have remained very competitive despite the rapid changes from these technologies.

Thus, when top government policy makers provide a blanket condemnation of the education system we were subjected to, what does it mean? Does it imply that government knowingly feed us with junk education?

Do we seek legal redress and damages against the government for knowingly condemning us into a live of penury by subjecting us into a useless education without a right of choice?

Or does it mean what I contribute in this column is also a junk assuming that I am a product of what the government has branded as a junk system? Exactly, what is it that we’ve been trying to cure here?

Shifts on views of education

Economic thought has fundamentally changed in the past three decades as to what are the primary drivers of economic growth and development. Traditionally, emphasis was on the accumulation of physical capital as a key ingredient to growth and development. Today, no economist can dispute the centrality of the development of human abilities and knowledge of the population or labour force as a primary engine of economic growth.

Further, thinking has shifted from prioritising merely the numeric increase of educational possibilities to include the quality of education that is provided to the labour force. As things stand, there is no single economy that can withstand the transformative force of the knowledge edge economic environment.

In economic modeling, education has crystalised into human capital due to its substantial contribution to economic growth. Consequently, public spending on education is no longer viewed as a recurrent expenditure, but as an investment to develop human capital. It thus follows that no country can afford to gamble with their national education system. Equally, neither can mediocrity be a standard in the management of a national education system.

An article posted on www.geeksforgeeks.org, on July 21 2022, summarises the role of education in economic development as: enhancing people’s access to current and scientific concepts; improves people’s efficiency and capacity to absorb new technologies; raises knowledge on new possibilities and labor mobility; helps people obtain information, skills and attitudes to grasp societal changes and scientific advances; education investments enables innovations and discoveries; and a well - educated populace supports a country’s adoption of cutting-edge technologies.

Mortal blow

A dispatch from State House dated December 2 2022, on the interim findings of the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms raises three pertinent issues that imply a mortally blow for CBC. One, there never was a careful thought and plans for graduation and transition into CBC. Two, the human capital (teacher competences) and staffing to handle CBC did not exist right from the start of its implementation.

Finally, there was no adequate planning for the supporting infrastructure and the requisite family support structures to enable learning for the primary stakeholder in all this, the learner.

On account of this alone, the construct of CBC as it is must die and a lasting solution to outlive generations be found before the task force submits its final report in March 2023.

As the committee finalises its work, the spend costs on CBC must never be a factor to influence its final recommendations.

Instead, it is the ability of whatever system of education they recommend to protect the most vulnerable child in the country to access quality, reliable and affordable education. A system that does not guarantee equity must never see he light of the day. Secondly, the intergenerational economic costs of our education –direct, implied and opportunity costs. We owe it to our children a solemn duty of care on these fundamental truths.