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Education curriculum: Change not the solution to challenges

COMMENTARY
By Paul Ogula | April 18th 2016

Since the implementation of the 8-4-4 system in January 1986, there has been continuing conflict between those who favour the careful systematic review of the curriculum to make it relevant to learners’ needs, and those who wish to replace it for the sake of it.

Despite the fact that many products of our system of education, including doctors, lawyers and teachers have excelled in their fields, and those who pursue their studies in universities in other countries are rated highly, anti-8-4-4 proponents continue to make reckless statements about the system.

Equally dangerous to our education system are educationists who say there is no need for curriculum review, innovation and reform.

Curriculum is not static. It must be reviewed from time to time to meet the changing needs of learners and society.

Current debates about the need to change the 8-4-4 system on the one hand, and the need to reform the curriculum but retain the system of education on the other, miss one crucial point: that the current curriculum has not been effectively implemented.

What has contributed to this include underfunding of education at all levels; inadequate preparation of teachers prior to implementation of the curriculum; lack of adequate teachers and textbooks; insufficient amount of study time; inadequate specialised training of quality assurance and standards officers; engagement in corrupt practices by education and quality assurance officers; shortage of new educational technologies and high school fees.

Also well-known to critics of the 8-4-4 system, which, however, they choose to ignore, is the fact that there is a severe serious shortage of teachers in many schools.

So, even changing the education system will not help much if we don’t address such challenges.

So, what needs should a 21st century curriculum that we are all yearning for meet?

Such a curriculum should prepare students to live and work in modern society. It should encourage them to develop an understanding of science and technology and how their uses benefit the society; understand the functioning of their country’s political system; enhance students’ computer literacy skills; develop students’ analytical thinking capacities through comparison and contrast in the schools; develop increased awareness of emerging issues such as drug and alcohol abuse, gender, HIV and Aids and lastly, develop social interaction skills.

The current system meets most of the outlined needs, but certainly it needs to be strengthened. In addition to courses offered at both primary and secondary schools, the following multi-disciplinary themes should be mainstreamed: information literacy, creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, ICT literacy, environmental literacy and life skills.

What Kenya needs is not just an education system that will equip tomorrow’s workers with employable skills as current proponents are saying. The curriculum change should be about developing a vibrant, knowledge-infused economy that will successfully compete in the global marketplace.

The government, without changing the current curriculum, should work to speedily raise education standards in schools, colleges and universities by learning how Finland, China, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan and other countries have used education to promote rapid social and economic development.

Kenya’s national education goals are the hallowed foundations on which the school curriculum is built.

The proposed introduction of a curriculum that only meets employers’ needs threatens to destroy them. The disadvantages of competency-based curriculum and their consequences have been well-documented and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has deliberately used the rhetoric of the need for students to have employable skills as a cover to introduce a new curriculum that at the end may not help the country much as it is being touted.

The reform of the 8-4-4 system is necessary, but Kenya’s professionals, particularly products of the 8-4-4 system, should be asked to suggest innovative solutions to removing inefficiency within the current curriculum.

All said, the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development must understand that whatever curriculum reform they initiate should reflect our educational philosophy as contained in the national goals of education in the Constitution, which includes emphasis on subjects that develop values of social cohesion, peace and patriotism as well as effective citizenship.

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