Scant talks are exposing new curriculum to legitimacy crisis

Education Secretary George Magoha recently announced the formation of a task force to oversee the rollout of the new education system, the Competency Based Curriculum, and also announced that the task force would hold consultations in all the 47 counties, a process that was to commence in July.

At the opening of the national conference on education last week, President Uhuru Kenyatta said the task force had already visited all the counties and, in addition, had also held 11 sector-based consultations with stakeholders, facts that led him to conclude that the rollout of the new system was on course.

It is difficult to imagine how the task force could have covered the 47 counties in such a short period of time, or how whatever information received from these consultations could have been processed so quickly as to form the basis for the conclusion reached by the President.

A key source of the criticism against the new system has been that there was inadequate public consultation in its planning.  When Magoha announced the county dialogues, a civil society platform, Kenya Tuitakayo, wrote to him asking for details of the rollout and pointing out that the information would be necessary for a number of reasons, including in mobilising the public to participate and to enable an assessment of the nature and quality of engagements by the task force.

Rather than reply to the letter, members of the task force convened a meeting, during which it tried to talk about their plans which they have evidently been reluctant to document.

The meeting left the impression that the task force was walking on egg shells and viewed documenting its processes as a potential trap.

After his speech last week, it begins to feel that the President has been misled regarding the scope of the public consultations on the CBC.

There are few details on the nature of those consultations and their timing, as if to say that the task force fears that providing the missing information would expose something they would rather not have a discussion about.

An issue that has come up repeatedly, as the CBC becomes the subject of so much public attention, is the process by which the country made the momentous decision to adopt this new system.

There is no known official process or document on how the country made this great leap.

Talking to experts on curriculum development has established that there was a report in 2008 which reviewed the 8-4-4 system as at that time. Experts say that there was heavy political interference with the contents of the report, with the Ministry of Education taking a view that the report could only be published if portions that it considered offensive were first changed.

Under unclear circumstances and after significant delay, during which many of the people involved on all sides had moved on, the contents of the report were allegedly altered and has been part of the basis for claiming that a decision was made to move the country into CBC.

Highly informal

Whatever the truth about how the review of the 8-4-4 system and the transition to CBC, it seems that decision-making regarding education is highly informal and discretionary and, therefore, unaccountable.

While there would be horror if a person was to be sent to jail without the detailed processes that the criminal justice system requires, the public seems to have accepted that a few hand-picked people can determine the future of millions of people without any safeguards to ensure that their decisions are informed or are not based on ill-motive. There is need to develop a certifiable curriculum development expertise and also to ensure that any change to the education system is subject to independent controls.

Both these elements are lacking and that is why the CBC is suffering from a legitimacy crisis.

The media recently reported the closure of Mathareini Primary School in Muranga because all the pupils in the school left for other schools.

The number of pupils in the neighbouring Gakoeini Primary School is reported to be very low, and the school could also close.

As evidenced by Muranga, there is a trend of reducing numbers of pupils in public primary schools across the country, making the future of public primary education bleak.

Against these facts, the government is rolling out a highly demanding new education system which is predicated on a view that the trends affecting public schools are immaterial.

The new education system is also more exacting on the private resources of families than the one it is replacing.

While President Kenyatta has indicated awareness that implementing the CBC would be full of challenges, the space for an honest acknowledgement of the challenges is small.

The government is only ever going to accept challenges that do not imperil CBC as a fait accompli.

- The writer is the executive director at KHRC. [email protected]