After KCPE, we must make CBC work for Kenya

Teachers at Tenri Primary School in Embu busy on their phones to download the 2023 KCPE results. [Muriithi Mugo, Standard]

Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu yesterday released the 2023 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination results, marking the official end of the 8-4-4 system of education at the primary level after 39 years.

With the release of the results, it means learners at lower level will now fully transition to the Competence Based Curriculum (CBC).

For those who passed through the 8-4-4 system, they will live to remember its rigidity and exam-oriented nature. The system put a lot of pressure on them to score high marks to get admission to the best schools or qualify for enrolment in coveted courses at the university.

The main problem with the system is that at every level, learners sat one standardised examination and for those who failed to get good grades, they were condemned as “failures.”

This do-or-die struggle saw the rise in vices such as cheating, which to date remains the greatest challenge to exam administration in Kenya.

It also saw schools introduce extra tuition ostensibly to cover the curriculum, which despite a government ban continued to flourish as it became a cash cow for administrators and teachers. Critics questioned the system’s capacity to allow students learn and understand concepts not just for passing exams, but also facing life.

If for anything else, these are some of the reasons why the introduction of CBC was long overdue. Unlike in the 8-4-4 system where rote learning was the preferred method, CBC lays emphasis on practical and hands-on learning.

And unlike in the latter system, there is no rush to finish the curriculum since the learners are allowed to progress at their own pace with the schools’ responsibility being to file periodical progress reports. 

And instead of a single standardised examination, CBC relies on a summative assessment approach in determining learners’ transition to the next level. The same applies in termly examinations meaning they are not pressurised to burn the midnight oil as has been the case before. It is now imperative that the government dedicates extra effort to ensuring that the new system, which will see its second cohort of Junior Secondary learners admitted in January, works.

If properly implemented, it holds a lot of promise for learners as its focus is on developing their competencies and thus ensuring they are prepared for work and life, whichever pathway they follow.

However, so far, there are those concerned with the manner the implementation is proceeding.

For instance, the decision to have Junior Secondary domiciled in primary schools has proved problematic due to teacher shortages, ill-prepared teachers and lack of facilities such as laboratories. While this was one of the recommendations of the Munavu taskforce on education reforms, there may be need to review the policy.

The Ministry of Education also needs to fast-track preparation of Bills to anchor recommendations by the presidential working party for enactment by Parliament.