Why many reforms won't solve our education woes

Presidential Working Reforms Party on Education chairman Collins Odote (left) with committee members Subira Neema (center) and Dr Jane Imbunya during a Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) recommendations forum at Kisumu Girls High School on November 11, 2022. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

In the last 60 years, Kenya has changed its education system four times. Pre-independence, we had the colonial system, then A-level, 8-4-4 and now the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC).

Curiously our neighbours Uganda and Tanzania are yet to change theirs. The presidential working party on education reforms now wants our views prompted by our indifference to CBC. Without being sucked into politics and emotions, here are my suggested reforms.

The curriculum - from primary to university - should be reviewed every five years. The Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) should be made autonomous to develop and review curricula for primary up to high school.

The new KICD should be detached from TSC in funding and management. More interaction with universities is expected from this new KICD.

A major curriculum overhaul should be done every ten years and put through a referendum. What our children learn is too important to be decided by politicians.

Our education should be benchmarked with the world’s best systems. Students in Kenya should take part in international exams like the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) to gauge their readiness for the global market.

We should find out how Indian elite schools have spawned global leaders in science and technology to rival Ivy League institutions.

The Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC) should become a regulator and license examining bodies at all levels. The competition will lead to innovation and improvements in the quality of education.

For basic education, we should reduce the school time to between 9am and 3pm. Children must get time to play and grow. No holiday classes, but games and other activities can be allowed in schools.

The mother tongue should be taught in primary school - each child must learn a different mother tongue apart from their own.

Beyond preserving our languages, this will improve diversity and cohesion. Mother tongues should be studied at university. German and French are mother tongues too.

Technical and Vocational Education Training institutions should be fully equipped with the latest technology. I found that the lathe machine I used in my high school three decades ago is still in use. More link with the industry is needed. Students should apprentice as they study - German style.

In university education, we should reduce the number of public universities and equip them to become centres of excellence. Why not benefit from economies of scale? Some universities should be renamed for example Kisii and Meru, the names are too local.

Increase diversity

We should reserve 20 per cent of university teaching posts for non-Kenyans to increase diversity. More visiting professors.

We need to reduce inbreeding. Universities should not hire their graduates as lecturers or professors.

Administrators should not become lecturers in their own university, that is “insider trading” The university curriculum should be broadened. Students should take some courses outside their speciality or schools.

For example, Bachelor of Commerce (BComm) students can take some courses in agriculture or electives should be as open as possible. Students should be allowed to take electives even in other universities! 30 per cent of the student courses should be electives, let students explore.

Science and humanities should be closer, with students taking courses in each area. For example, students in economics should take a course in sciences and vice versa.

We must stop narrowing students when the future is interdisciplinary.

On Financing education, primary to secondary schools should be free.

Learners should stop wearing uniforms, it makes education expensive!

There is no school uniform in the US or Germany. The ranking of schools as national or county should be abolished. All schools should be equal.

Undergraduate education should be “free“ with students given loans by banks, and other entities guaranteed by the government. The Higher Education Loans Board is not enough.

Or better get an education lottery. We can’t expect hungry students to study and do cutting-edge research. What of an education bond?

We need mega projects in education that rival the SGR or expressway with land for new schools, and state-of-the-art buildings and technology.

Have you visited the mega schools after a 100 per cent transition and witnessed the crowding? Noted how primary and secondary schools are sharing limited land. Just visit Loresho Primary School.

Our schools should be racially mixed, we should have a school with Asians and mzungus. They too are citizens of this country.

Students taking master’s degrees and PhD should be sponsored by the government, based on the needs of the country. Any scholarships and donations to schools or universities should be tax deductible. The State should not pay for students in private universities.

Private business

This is subsidising private business. On governance, primary school head teachers should be elected by parents, but be TSC staff. An independent panel should interview and pick principals.

The ministry of education and TSC should be observers in the panels. The powers of the school principals should be reviewed.

Parents should elect the board of management as they are the key stakeholders. No elected politician should be a member of such a board. The vice chancellor (VC) position in universities should be open to non-Kenyans.

All stakeholders should have a say in picking a VC. This includes alumni, students, parents, and funders, among others.

We change the name VC to the university president.

Universities should get the autonomy to raise their money and invest it. Today, public universities are controlled by the Ministry of Education. The University law of 2012 should be repealed.

The Commission on University Education (CUE) should give universities more autonomy to run their programmes and respond to the market with clear benchmarks.

To encourage research, the State should pay researchers for any papers published in top journals. Use the South African model.

We should raise our research fund to about three per cent of the gross domestic product.

No matter how many times we change our education system, what really matters is the content and competence of the graduates.

Instead of frequent changes in the system, and shuffling the years, let’s focus on the content and competence of the graduates.

There should be more interaction among universities, secondary and primary schools, beyond drama and music.

A good example: How does State House Girls or Nairobi primary School benefit by sharing fences with the University of Nairobi?

A few more issues. We take the weak students for extra tuition. What of the brightest and most gifted kids? How do we keep them busy? Does the curriculum take care of their interests? In the US such high school kids take university courses.  

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