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How the 8-4-4 system has been a thorn in the flesh since its inception

By Chesang Chepyegon | April 29th 2021
Distribution of examination material at Kapsoya Primary school, UasinGishu County. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

As the new curriculum, popularly known as Competency-Based Curriculum takes centre stage in the Kenyan education sector, it will be unfair if the 8-4-4 system is swept under the carpet without highlighting some of the weaknesses that necessitated its termination.

I am persuaded that the first graduates of 8-4-4 would attest to the fact that the system was ideal in imparting real-life skills among learners. It commenced in January 1985 founded on the philosophy of young citizenry achieving self-reliance through education. The system was expected to encourage orientation towards acquisition of technical and vocational skills.

The 8-4-4 curriculum was designed with the intent of inculcating in learners skills that enable them to be self-reliant and inclined towards self-employment. Nevertheless, Kenya encountered several drawbacks that hindered it from living up to its philosophical proclamation as demonstrated by the formation of several education commissions and task forces mandated to unearth these setbacks. 

The gallant intention of imparting among learners the necessary skills that would make them be self-employed or be hired in the informal sector soon faded for a number of reasons, one of which was inadequate teaching facilities and equipment due to the high cost of constructing infrastructure such as workshops and laboratories. The Kamunge Report of 1988 fully supported the 8-4-4 system of education, particularly the broadly-based and more vocationally-inclined curriculum.

However, the commission acknowledged the mounting financial pressure of education and proposed cost-sharing. This cost-sharing recommendation adversely affected the education of poor folks since communities and parents were expected to shoulder greater responsibility in meeting the cost of infrastructure such as tuition units and teachers’ houses apart from books and uniforms. These levies forced many learners out of school. Apart from the high cost, the system was also threatened by the heavy workload faced by both teachers and learners as underlined in the Kamunge Report.

The report recommended the restructuring of the curriculum, which led to an adjustment of the secondary school curriculum with a reduction of the number of subjects to be examined in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education from 10 to eight. Some of the subjects were also combined while others were eliminated altogether in the hope of reducing the workload. Despite the revisions that followed this report, these challenges still lingered. This was followed by the Koech Commission of 1999, which recommended the introduction of manageable curriculum content at all levels of education.

Nevertheless, these efforts did not solve the problem of heavy workload since some topics were moved from one class to another. These changes yielded another challenge where the education system became increasingly examination-oriented.

After the promulgation of the new constitution in 2010, a task force on the Realignment of the Education Sector to the Constitution of Kenya (2012) was instituted. This task force underlined a number of drawbacks of the 8-4-4, one of which was undue emphasis on examinations based certification. 

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As education became more and more examination-oriented it paved the way for unhealthy competition among schools. This scenario was even more aggravated when ranking of schools on the basis of their performance was an official practice.

-The writer is an educationist and associate faculty member at Mount Kenya University


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