Base progression of learners on age rather than examinations

Children playing during break time at Phonestar Academy in Kitale on June 18, 2021. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

Public debate on Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) seems to be slowing down compared to the last three months when the subject was on everyone's lips.

This is because the new government took a different approach of collecting views and organising them through the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms (PWPER).

Recommendations given by different stakeholders gave direction on matters that the public felt had not been well placed in the take-off of the new curriculum.

Learners always yearn to go a rung up after they do a major examination.

At some point in the various reviews done to the Objective Based Curriculum (OBC) which most of us refer to as 8-4-4, there was an attempt to eliminate ranking of schools and grading of learners, which seemed to be the biggest problem bedeviling the system. This failed terribly.

The Education ministry banned joint examinations by schools, holding of education days and even awarding or rewarding learners at zonal, divisional and district levels. These were intended to obliterate the mindset of only passing examinations, rather than gaining knowledge and skills. These attempts caused more confusion and disenfranchisement and were dropped.

Our discussion today is based on whether the proposed levels of education in PWPER can help in eliminating the push and pull on the placement of Junior Secondary Schools (JSS) and Senior Secondary Schools (SSS). A quick look shows that there are four levels of education in the USA; Early Childhood Education, Elementary Education, High School and College Education.

Under early childhood education, there are two ways to expose young children to education. Educational programmes at this level are usually geared towards children aged three to five years. They are taught counting, letters, colours, shapes and more informal things about how big or small we are compared with things around us.

The second way that early education happens is through kindergarten, which prepares them for elementary school by teaching them some of the fundamentals of learning such as print awareness, letter recognition and phonemic awareness.

Once children reach six years, they are usually enrolled in elementary school. A student going through an elementary education programme can expect to learn about language arts, math, science and social studies. Some schools offer foreign languages like Spanish, French or Chinese.

Once students reach 12 years, they graduate from the elementary level of education to high school. They are required to stay enrolled in school, but have the option of either staying at the elementary level or moving on to middle school. Most high schools enroll their students in ninth grade and older.

Some schools enroll all students into 10th grade without having a specific grade requirement. This is mostly up to what a student wants for themselves and where their interests lie. Usually, there are class requirements that need to be met once you are enrolled in high school that can be fulfilled through an online programme if necessary.

Depending on which state a student lives in, they may or may not have an Individualised Education Plan (IEP). When students reach the age of 12 years, they meet with a team that determines what the best fit is for them. This may be through an IEP, school transfer or staying where they are. High school education then prepares learners to college education which is the highest level based on IEP, which we may call specialisation.

Very critical aspects in the learning processes in the USA are coming out and which we should consider emulating. These are; levels of education versus the age of learners. For instance; age 3-5 years for early childhood, age 6-11 for elementary education, age 12-17 for high school and then age 18 years and above for college education.

In the USA, it's not about the grade one gets but the number of years required for one to be at the designated level of education. And finally that at high school; there is more of IEP rather than just teaching. This means that specialisation of learners based on their interests in education is a key component of their high school education system.

Kenya's focus with the inception of CBC should be to base levels of education on the age of the learners rather than demarcating on the basis of who is lower, who is in the middle and who is higher, to initiate IEP for learners based on competencies that learners are comfortable with so that we can churn out more skills and competencies rather than knowledge and make clear career paths.

Meanwhile, there are over 100,000 teachers with sufficient higher qualifications to teach JSS from primary schools who the commission should consider tooling and re-tooling for the tasks. So, as the commission looks at promoting these teachers based on their qualifications, there is a ready placement for this group of very hard working Kenyans.