Financial stakes drivers of curriculum change

Pupils at an Early Childhood Development Centre (ECDE) at Arabuko Primary School in Malindi. [File, Standard]

As schools open, it is expected that learners in the lower grades will be introduced to a new curriculum. Despite the misgivings expressed by Education Cabinet Secretary on December 13, 2018, the decision to roll out the new programme appears cast in stone. This is reminiscent of January 1985 when the Head of State ordered the launch of 8-4-4 without debate. By 1992 the system was falling apart, later to be abandoned except in name.

In a press statement, the CS argued there were no properly prepared teaching materials, teachers had not been trained and assessment tools are not available in all schools evaluated.The views were informed by two evaluation reports: one internal and the other external. The about-turn to roll out the new curriculum this month should be seen as emanating from external players who think they have something to lose should the curriculum not be implemented now.

The books prepared by certain publishers and approved by KICD are a betrayal and insult to intellectuals in Kenya.  A book which depicts a girl chasing after a hen, but the text says it is a cat, is being introduced in schools this week. There are no quality controls in the publishing house and the vetting panel slept on the job. Such are the interests pushing for the immediate implementation of the curriculum. They have a financial stake.

In the first part of Lesson 101 above, new words are introduced.These words are found in any of the old books. We do not require expensive new books to teach these words. The second part of the lesson is supposed to create an opportunity for pupils to read the words in context. There is no connection between the new words learnt and the story. Children are said to take a hen and a cat for pets. How realistic is this? Do children play with a cat and chicken? How does one do this? With what does Ben hit a rock? What is it to “nap”?

School infrastructure

In the same book there is a photograph which is supposed to be accompanied by a story. The story misses! How will pupils make sense out of this book?  It is clear that in what appears as a confused state, there is a beneficiary.

In the school situation, the context of curriculum implementation includes the teachers and all the characteristics they possess, the learners and their characteristics, school infrastructure, communities  supporting the schools and all their characteristics. If teachers have not been trained to present content of a curriculum who implements it?

Are all external institutions expected to support the new curriculum such as Teacher Training Colleges, the Knec and universities prepared to support this curriculum? Curriculum implementation may fail because of external institutional failures. This is the fate that befell Mathematics Alt B, introduced in Secondary Schools to help learners who do not require complex Mathematics to become an engineer.

Learning materials

The KICD developed the Alt B syllabus. Unfortunately, Knec requires that an entire school must take Alt B Math or no one in that school takes it.  Consequently, very few candidates benefit from Alt B Mathematics. We still have “failures” in KCSE Mathematics.

Institutional failure is also manifest in the type of examination questions candidates are subjected to. While we blame the 8.4.4 for promoting rote learning, we do not appreciate the fact that the tests simply require knowledge regurgitation. Pupils learn what is examined. Levels of thinking taught are those required by the examiner. Skills of higher thinking will be taught by teachers if the examiner requires these. Curriculum content, however superior, must be actualized by a teacher in the classroom.

Curriculum reform may address four areas: educational aims or objectives, content, methodology and evaluation procedures.  Objectives, content and evaluation procedures are normally selected and decided by the State. However, methodology is decided by the teacher in the classroom, depending on resources at their disposal and the demands of the examination he prepares students for. Success of curriculum implementation depends on the methods teachers use and learning materials available. If we want a skills oriented society we must be prepared to invest in skills development using the right materials.

In Russia, secondary school students are taught to assemble and disassemble machine guns. They have the machine guns to work with. In South Korea, making hand phones is a cottage industry. Families have the tools. Equally, Kenyan children can do anything required of them if materials are made available. Government and society should invest more in equipment and materials and avoid the present infatuation with content change. !

The Ministry of Education is aware that the assessment strategy for the new curriculum does not exist. Yet assessment affects teaching. There is truth in the little labour relations dictum: What gets measured gets done. The claim by the Douglas Odhiambo Task Force that the five examinations to be offered at different levels in the new system will be a mere formality is academic fallacy. Kenyans should be careful not to repeat a mistake they committed 30 years ago. It is now time to answer the question: Why don’t our children learn?

Professor Ongeti is Specialist in Curriculum and Learning Designs, Moi University