CUE should give direction on new curriculum in universities

Students in a lecture hall at Tangaza University College. [File, Standard]

The implementation of the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) is underway although with hiccups. Whereas it began at the lower levels, it is expected to be escalated to higher levels as Competency-Based Education (CBE). So far, technical and vocational education centres are on course. Unfortunately, most universities are implementing CBE in shadowy ways.

The way to gauge whether CBE is taking shape is by looking at how Schools of Education in various universities are doing in terms of entrenching the new approach to educating. I choose to zero in on these schools since they develop teachers who in turn teach in institutions of basic education, institutions that develop foundational competencies that enable further training in whichever discipline.

Curiously, universities continue to implement CBE in idiosyncratic ways. This sad state of affairs is informed by lack of leadership from the Commission of University Education (CUE). Ideally, CUE in conjunction with universities is supposed to develop a university CBE framework from which these institutions can model their respective programmes and courses, just the way the Ministry of Education has done for diploma teacher education.

Such a framework will ensure standardisation and uniformity in the manner of implementing CBE. But as it stands, each university is devising its own approaches, with some resorting to simplistic ones that take a narrow view of the concept of CBE.

Take for example a university that has introduced a certificate in CBC. For starters, CBE (or CBC for the case of basic education) is not a specific course but a culture. It is the totality of curriculum experiences which, at the end of the day, ensure that learners acquire the specified competencies. No single course or unit can claim to instill competencies among the learners.  

This malpractice reminds me of the 8-4-4 system that identified development of certain moral values, only for some fellows with little understanding to relegate them to exclusive learning areas such as Social Ethics and Education, and Religious Education. In this warped arrangement, teachers in other disciplines didn’t think it their role to develop moral values among learners.

We are staring at a situation where the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) may equally fall for this fallacy and begin to inspect individual transcripts to ascertain that they contain stand-alone courses in CBC/CBE, before accreditation of prospective teachers. Instructively, both CBC and CBE require that the presupposed competencies be developed across the learning areas.

They ought to be infused and integrated in all disciplines as an approach to teaching so that the requisite competencies are developed wholesomely. Throwing a course here and another there, is not and cannot amount to CBE. It’s a piecemeal approach that will fail in due course.

The CBE Mathematics teacher, for example, ought to develop activities that actively engage students (whether prospective teachers or not) in mathematical exploration and problem-solving.

Such could include problem-solving tasks, hands-on experiments, group projects, and real-world applications. The competencies that can be developed through the study of Mathematics could include critical thinking, problem-solving, mathematical reasoning, data analysis, and communication.

Further, learners could be encouraged to formulate hypotheses and justify their solutions apart from integrating real-world contexts and examples to help students to see the practical applications of mathematical concepts. This will enhance their understanding and motivation to learn.

Accordingly, the Mathematics tutor ought to be guided as much. But developing a stand-alone course, and baptising it with a farcical name such as ‘Introduction to CBC’ is not only simplistic but a demonstration of a lack of understanding of the concept and spirit of CBE. This intellectual laziness must be reigned upon if we mean to improve our education system.

CBE is not unprecedented. Now that we chose the path, we should tread the whole range by indulging in the best practices. And these are widely documented for anyone who cares to know. Tutors should be uniformly retooled so that all learners stand equal chances of benefitting from the new system regardless of where they study.

It is even more critical for teacher trainees, since some may be disadvantaged by virtue of having studied in universities considered to be CBE incompliant. The TSC equally ought to be wary of their demands when registering pre-service teachers.

Whereas certificate courses (Teacher Professional Development) may suit those teachers already out of college, the subsequent ones ought to be gauged not on the basis of solitary ‘CBC’ courses but the whole programme whose pedagogy should be CBE-oriented.

CUE, the university education supervisor, ought to step up to the plate and provide direction. It is unreasonable for them to inspect universities’ implementation of CBE when they haven’t developed any framework that informs the evaluation.

Further, the government should support reforms in university education. Subjecting these institutions to punitive fees through CUE whenever they institute reforms on their programmes is so discouraging to the extent that majority of institutions are unwilling to conduct reforms owing to their incapability to pay for them.