New curriculum no panacea to sector’s woes

Sister Beatrice Eunice Nabwire (left) in charge of the school and facilitator Odilia Shimuli (right) taking pupils of Lions nursery school through the new education curriculum in Kakamega (Photo: File| Standard)

Kenya is on the threshold of launching a new curriculum, the three-legged education framework which is anchored on a vision of values, theoretical approaches and guiding principles. 

The new curriculum that was conceptualised, designed and developed by Peter Hall Jones, a former British nursery school teacher turned motivational speaker, will from January next year replace the 8-4-4 system of education. Jones, who considers himself a pioneer of new ideas, change maker, natural story-teller and inspirational speaker guided the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development in mapping out the new education framework dispensation.

Jones’ skills and abilities could be viewed at, and

Genuine article

But without disputing his professional status as a team leader in crafting any sort of curriculum, only time will tell whether the government bought a genuine article, as no country had hired him before or after to conceptualise, design and develop a national school curriculum. 

Nonetheless, the new curriculum opens a new chapter in Kenya’s education system where examinations such as the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education and the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education will be replaced by continuous assessment tests.

Apart from phasing out public examinations, the 2-6-3-3 system categorised as pre-primary, lower and upper primary, lower secondary and senior school, will teach values that are meant to make ethical persons. “The thrust of this will be to nurture learners to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do,” says the system’s blueprint,” Basic Education Curriculum Framework. However, in terms of national goals of education, the new system of education has nothing new as it is walking on a hard-trodden road that was built in 1964 by the Kenya Education Commission Report, also known as Ominde Report.

Probably what the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development - or in that matter, the government - should have asked are what factors that had made it difficult for Kenya’s education to realise its goals, even before Jones was hired. 

Prof Simeon Ominde and his team had clearly identified the problem affecting education and was upbeat to correct anomalies and injustices of the colonial regime that allocated public funds meant for education on racial basis.

“Over the years, capital was invested in European and Asian education, representing three per cent of the population, than in the education of the African 97 per cent,” said Ominde. According to him, Africans were left with inadequate educational prospects, simply because of meagre resources made available to their schools. 

But politics and facts aside about segregation and discrimination of Africans during the colonial period, since independence, political class has persistently used provision of education as an ointment to calm down wananchi’s raw political nerves.

Although Ominde and his team had recommended expansion of quality primary and secondary education and later their call was amplified by Sessional Paper No10 of 1965: African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya, very little was done until 1973 when a limited free primary education was announced through a presidential decree to coincide with the general election the following year. 

By then, there were loud whispers across the country that the government had not just failed to implement its policies but was back-sliding to deliver on the Kanu manifesto’s key agenda of providing free quality education, hence the dramatic political pronouncement that took planners and the public unaware.

According to Prof Daniel Sifuna, abolition of school fees became a sham as parents had to pay more through building levies. “Beyond the recruitment of untrained teachers, the government played a minor role in the implementation of free primary education,” says Sifuna in a study, ‘The Illusion of Universal Free Primary Education in Kenya.’ 

Similarly, more or less in a political card game, when he became president, Daniel Moi eager to get general public at his corner quickly played education joker on his detractors by declaring free primary education on top of free milk to pupils in 1979. No doubt it was a stroke of genius that lived to be imitated by Mwai Kibaki’s National Rainbow Coalition in 2003, when the third free primary education initiative was launched and put more than 1.5 million children in schools. 

Unfortunately, what most people have failed to notice, or have deliberately ignored, is that since independence there had been no calculated initiatives to improve learning environments in schools across the country. According to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation, almost 50 per cent of Kenya’s primary schools are in a state of disrepair.

In some rural areas children study under trees, while most informal settlements in urban areas have no public schools. What this means is that successive governments in Kenya have refused to be accountable and have not done enough towards achieving equitable and quality education in the country. 

Little justification

Subsequently, the free primary education policy has bypassed many children, especially those in urban slums and there is little justification for the government to purport giving free primary education when there are no schools in settlements occupied by poor families.

Nevertheless, the Jubilee government is still riding on Kibaki’s free primary education and now widening it to cover tuition fees for all secondary students, as well as expanding transition rates.

As Sifuna has pointed out, the implementation of free basic education in Kenya has been a matter of political expediency rather than a well thought out and planned reform to benefit learners. “No situation analysis is ever conducted and the end result has been poor quality education occasioned by overcrowding, lack of teachers and of learning materials,” says Sifuna. 

Similarly, Jubilee’s flagship education reform that is expected to usher in the no-public examinations dispensation in primary and secondary education is on shaky ground taking into account that there are no indicators as to how the new system will succeed where its processors failed miserably.

Just to blame the high-stakes KCPE as the major culprit that created barriers for most pupils not to attain basic reading and numeracy skills is academically hollow. Similarly, to ascribe failure of Kenya’s secondary education system to produce tertiary-ready youths to the KCSE is unjustifiable as countries that have invested well in their high schools are producing high quality students, despite having competitive exams that are similar to KCSE. 

Besides, while teachers are expected to be held accountable for implementing the new curriculum, the public is yet to know what standards must be attained and even how to measure achievement. Another aspect that has not been addressed in these early stages of the new curriculum is whom it is specifically intended for.

It is not a secret that political class and other affluent persons in Kenya debunked resource-neglected public schools long time ago and took their children to private schools.

In this case it would make sense for the government to provide transparent information on the strengths and weaknesses of the new system.