With all the promises, Ruto's Education CS has a tough job

President-elect William Ruto. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Whoever takes the Education docket in the new government has some work to do. According to the ambitious Kenya Kwanza manifesto, education is one of its many priorities.

Within the education priority, one of the micro goals is to “set up a National Open University to in-crease access and reduce the cost of university education while making 100 per cent transition to higher education a reality.”

Consider the 100 per cent transition to higher education. The Kibaki government made similar promises and, indeed, true to its campaign promise, implemented the 100 per cent primary to secondary school transition. 

The experience of the transition from primary to secondary taught us some lessons. For a start, the secondary schools were ill prepared to receive exponential numbers. Teachers were poorly prepared for the workload.

The whole ecosystem to run meaningfully the large numbers coming through the lower system was not in place. It has taken almost 20 years to fix major shortcomings in the transition preparedness.

Now we have an opportunity, should the new government make good its promise, to transit all students from secondary schools to higher education. In the same manifesto, the promise is to make the university education accessible, affordable and meet quality assurance standards. We know that in the recent past, universities have struggled to remain a float. Moreover, the quality of teaching and learning has declined in most universities due to financial and management crises.   

Part of the solution the manifesto suggests is to set up a National Open University aimed at increasing access and reduce the cost of university education. This is an interesting one. For the two-year Covid-19 period lectures were offered online.

Several studies conducted seem to draw the conclusion that the online classes cannot replace in-person teaching and learning. Although a blended platform learning is seen as a viable option, many students and increasingly many parents consider in-person teaching and learning compelling.

In the event that the transition to university is 100 per cent, the incoming government will have to deal with two of its own promises in education.

First, it promised to abolish the Competence Based Curriculum (CBC) perhaps replace it with a new curriculum altogether. Changing a curriculum is not just a system change. It is touching on the lives of children in a way that their identities as they grow into adults will forever remain in them. In addition, it is a capital-intensive venture.

Second, is the transition to higher education itself. I do not know which of the two promises the Government will start with although they are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are so intertwined that the vision of one cannot be done in isolation of the other.

It will help the new government to put its white paper in place as early as possible for stakeholder input to avoid the pitfalls experienced in previous efforts in 100 per cent transition policy. It will also help to measure how much of the promise is actually hot air that was good for campaign but not for actual implementation.  

The promise to abolish CBC, for example, has serious implications for the student already in the system. Whichever new curriculum the government intends to replace it with will need to factor in several inputs to minimize the chaos in the CBC introduction.