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These flaws might bog down new curriculum

By Robert Wesonga | November 16th 2018

It is time the Education ministry addressed the flaws in the phasing-in of the new learning design to save learners from becoming victims of a confusing scenario.

A few weeks ago, snapshots of primary school textbooks revealed gross errors and content that parents and the general public have since taken exception to. What is worse, the books were stamped “Approved” by Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD).

Worst of all, the chairperson of the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA) called a press conference to defend the errors. He didn’t stop there, he wrote an article in one of the dailies to reinforce his point.

There is a connection between the hastily patched up textbooks and piloting of the proposed curriculum. In a society such as ours, it takes only the mildest criticism of a system or policy to be branded a cynic or even an enemy of progress.

Such criticism is wont to elicit distrust, even hostility. If the matter at hand is not of critical importance, this is a risk one should not take. That Kenya needs a new curriculum is a fact. It is only with regard to how and when it is to be implemented that we should probe those charged with the responsibility of executing this sacred task.

Ideal circumstances

Educationists will rightly warn that children have impressionable minds that are susceptible to negative influence. This explains why – in ideal circumstances – the content that children are exposed to in schools is carefully selected and sequenced so that it produces only the desired effect. When this fails to happen or is done wrongly, children, who are the greatest investment that the future of any society depends upon, could be irreparably ruined. 

From the look of things, the Ministry of Education seems to have rolled out the new curriculum beginning with Early Childhood Education Centres and primary schools. Although policymakers in the ministry will tell you the date for the implementation of the new curriculum is well in the future, and that what is happening in our schools is piloting, that is simply shoptalk aimed at evading the legal impediments relating to the exercise.

The de facto situation on the ground is that schools, and parents who care to know, have already been told that pupils who are now in Standard One (or is it Grade One?) will in Grade 3 be evaluated before transiting to Upper Primary. The word here is not ‘may’, but ‘will’.

The implication here is that the Government is not piloting, but is in fact implementing the new curriculum, but by evading legal obstacles. Somebody, or some people in Government, seem to have made up their minds that the new learning and teaching regime must work, all they have to do is to cleverly navigate the minefield that our legal landscape has become. What are the legal hurdles, you may ask?

According to the law, the proposed curriculum cannot in fact be rolled out unless some conditions are met. Among these, a sessional paper on implementation of the new design must be discussed and approved in Parliament. Besides, there must be an act of Parliament phasing out the old curriculum and bringing in the new one.

Without these conditions, the teaching and learning design is an illegality. Effectively, therefore, the ministry has created confusion in schools to avoid the legal impediments by allowing all schools to start the new curriculum in the name of piloting.

Piloting is effective when a select sample of the whole is used so that the lessons learnt thereof can be used to inform decisions to be applied to the whole. When many schools across the country are involved in the process, it ceases to be piloting.   

Although explanations are given that no school is obligated to follow the new design, the threat that those who do not adopt the proposed curriculum early will be left behind has remained largely unspoken but real.

Worse, in some schools teachers have been forced by circumstance to deliver both the old and the new curriculum to the same classes. This has been occasioned by their inability to access teaching and learning materials. Publishers and booksellers also seem to have been overwhelmed by the speed of the apparent change. Those that have managed to get books to the market have a few titles that are hurriedly patched up.  

Enterprising citizens

It is time the Education ministry addressed the flaws in the phasing-in of the new learning design to save the Kenyan child from becoming a victim of a confusing scenario. The ensuing confusion has meant that unscrupulous individuals who consider themselves the more enterprising citizens have filled the gap of lack of learning and teaching materials by flooding the market with books of the poorest quality.

As for the chairperson of publishers association, it is enough for us to recognise his decent showing at defending the indefensible. May be members of the public should not ask any questions altogether. After all, they will be challenged to produce textbooks they have authored themselves.

Dr Wesonga is a lecturer at University of Kabianga, Kericho

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