Why new curriculum is better than 8-4-4

‘Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid’ - Albert Einstein

What is unique about the Competence Based Curriculum (CBC) that Government started rolling out from grade One and Three early this year? Certainly, one of the peculiar features about CBC is that it has recognised children are differently endowed in abilities, interests and orientations.Implicit in the 8-4-4 curriculum is the idea intelligence is an indivisible quality within the human mind. The traditional notion of intelligence, based on IQ testing, dominates the 8-4-4 curriculum.

The conception of CBC has gone beyond the traditional IQ assumptions of single intelligence in human beings.  CBC has taken into account the theory of multiple intelligences. A professor of education at Harvard University, Howard Gardner, who challenged the traditional IQ assumptions, argues that there are eight different intelligences to account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults.

The eight intelligences or abilities are linguistic intelligence, logical-mathematical intelligence, spatial intelligence, bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence, musical intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, intrapersonal intelligence and naturalist intelligence.The CBC has embedded the principles of differentiated curriculum and learning and diversity and inclusion in the organisation of curriculum content and instructional approaches. This takes care of the different abilities and interests of each and every learner on the CBC educational platform.

The curriculum will, accordingly, provide paralel and complementary tiers: academic, vocational and talent. The Government will introduce a multi-track system to take care of the differentiated learning needs and orientation of all categories of children.The current system of education does not provide such opportunities for the students. It deifies linguistic intelligence, logical-mathematical intelligence as reflected in the national examinations—by default, indirectly condemning those that have other capabilities as failures.The second feature of the CBC is that policy makers have cut back and redefined the curriculum. The reduction aims at having an appropriate balance between breadth and depth of curriculum coverage in terms of student learning outcomes.

The Cabinet Secretary for education, George Magoha observed: “We have started to walk to an education curriculum that focuses less on content but more on acquisition of competencies.” Prof Magoha made the distinction during the launch of the CBC teacher training programme for early grade teachers at Uhuru Gardens Primary School in April.

Specific issues

The curriculum goes beyond content. Content is a means to an end. Not an end in itself. Students should not just know a fact, but it is using that fact to solve problems that now counts in CBC system. CBC therefore, emphasises teaching approaches that engage learners in an exciting process of discovery, of exploration of knowledge. The 21st century work environment demands far more than content knowledge.  It needs critical thinking and problem solving, creativity and imagination. The environment needs innovation, self-efficacy, good citizenship and communicating to sustain the democratic and information society.

Third, the Basic Education Curriculum Reform Framework (BECRF) proposes a significant departure from tradition by introducing a new learning area known as Community Service Learning (CSL).CSL allows students to gain practical experience and apply their academic knowledge and skills to help find solutions to specific issues in society. Countries such as the Netherlands and Canada have strong CSL that adds credits to the learners overall assessment.

The lack of such a programme has alienated learners from the community. Taking part in finding solutions to problems facing the society not only gives them opportunities to apply the knowledge gained in school but also develop citizenship, communication skills, life skills and research skills. Education and learning—within the confines of educational institutions and outside through CSL—implies that children are going to have more opportunities to gain knowledge and understanding. The knowledge and understanding gained will develop their minds, hearts and character in ways that we have never dreamt of if done according to the vision of the curriculum, which is; nurturing every learner’s potential.

The fourth distinctive feature of CBC is the de-emphasis on summative assessment. It has entrenched formative assessment in the curriculum. Summative examinations engendered overemphasis on school-based assessment. This cuts into allocated time, which is the total time available for teaching and learning. CBC will address the problem of too much testing at very short intervals that has been the hallmark of 8-4-4 system.

The formative assessment that CBC prescribes is not aimed at labeling learners with grades at the school level. But will be assessment for learning. That is assessment designed to inform future instruction or teaching and not to give leaners tags by way of marks.

It is a curriculum to stimulate the minds, hearts and souls of learners; not stuff them with facts and figures.

We cannot exhaust the many peculiarities with CBC. We have not talked about forces such as globalisation, information society and climate change that are reshaping the world. We have not talked about the recognition of and entrenchment of values into CBC system. That is a story for another day.


Mr Buhere is Communications Officer, Ministry of Education