CBC good idea but empower tutors to ensure success in its execution

Nyali Primary School headteacher John Kombo gives pupils tips on cassava farming, February 2021. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

They say the most constant thing in life is change. Change is inevitable. It is the very pulse of our existence. To this end, one would then expect that the whole idea of change should be not only expected, but also embraced. But there’s always fear lurking in the shadows. Fear of the unknown.

And this is where we are as a country with regards to the Competence-Based Curriculum (CBC). Opinions abound. There’s a healthy hubbub, if you ask me. After all, we are a democratic society, isn’t? And one would hope that the best ideas prevail. Not the loudest voices. 

There’s no doubt we are products of our past, but we don’t need to be prisoners of it. There’s no fundamental problem per se with CBC. And by the way, in itself, CBC is not a system of education. It is an instructional model. An instructional model heavy on inquiry as opposed to content, which is what 8-4-4 is.

The heavy bias on inquiry is ideally meant to prepare learners to thrive in the dynamic 21st century and an uncertain future. To be thinkers who would provide solutions to modern-day problems.

So do we, as a country, need an inquiry instructional model? Absolutely! Was time nigh for the shift from a content-based curriculum to a concept based one? Yes! Did we prepare adequately for the shift? Not quite! Do we seem to have our priorities in order? Definitely NO! 

The current hubbub on CBC clearly depicts that most people are still ‘hang-overed’ from 8-4-4. But it is understandable, because that is what most of us have known all our lives. The obsession with textbooks, for instance, is a pointer to this. Any competence/concept-based curriculum is not and should not be big on textbooks as such. CBC places emphasis on competence attainment rather than the acquisition of content knowledge.

The teaching and learning process, therefore, has to change its orientation, from grasping content to the acquisition of skills and aptitudes requisite not just in the job market, but in being able to accurately diagnose problems and find solutions to them. That some experts point to the provision of textbooks or lack of it thereof as an indicator of the success or failure of the CBC rollout is a stark indicator of just how off the rails we are in as far as this process goes.

Experts citing financial constraints, teacher to student ratio and teacher preparedness are spot on! As I averred during my early days on these pages, CBC is a learner-centred curriculum with the teacher at the centre of it. Let that sink… soak in it for a bit.

Adequate teacher preparation should have been the first point of call at the inception of the shift.

Having a teacher who went through a content-based system, and who has taught in a content-based system, and expect them, at a snap of a finger, to shift their whole paradigm to an inquiry-based model is being too ambitious, unrealistic even.

Dorcas Odonya, a teacher at Central Primary school in Kisumu, takes Grade 3 East pupils through a P.E lesson. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

CBC happens or appears to borrow heavily from the International Baccalaureate programme (just like 8-4-4 was lifted from Canada), and from experience I can, without an iota of doubt, posit that shifting the paradigm of a teacher schooled and trained through a content-based system takes time and vigorous training.

I will have you know that, fundamentally, teachers teach as they were taught. We mimic our best or most favourite teachers.

Truth is that our teachers are ill-prepared to instruct CBC, they lack proper re-tooling and badly need re-orientation. Teachers still going for training to learn CBC implementation while the curriculum is already is ongoing is a clear indication of unpreparedness, lack of clear strategies and poor planning in its implementation.

Centre of model

A concept based curriculum such as CBC ought to rely on the creativity/technic/pedagogical latitude of the teacher to come up with more engaging learning experiences that will enable learners grasp concepts or skills better. As such the teacher must be at the centre of the CBC model. The teacher ought to be better equipped to deliver this. Majority of the teachers are yet to understand what the whole concept of CBC is all about, and the reason is quite obvious, they are simply not well oriented.  

Methodology is key in any education curriculum. You can, for instance, know all the biology in the world. But if you cannot have the learner engage with it in a way that suits them, then it’s a zero sum game. It’s pointless.

The competency/concept-based curriculum is characterised by learner-centred constructivist approaches to teaching and learning. Constructivism is based on the view that knowledge and skills are not products that can be transferred from teacher to learner; rather, they are the result of learning activities done by learners themselves - individually or in groups.

Teachers are expected to use a variety of teaching strategies and resources that involve the learner. Learners, on the other hand, are expected to be active and responsive during lessons so as to construct knowledge, skills and attitudes. Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget holds that a learner ought to play an active role in learning. This is what the CBC should be about.

The teacher is supposed to switch from the role of an expert who transfers knowledge, to a coaching role, facilitating and guiding the learning process. In competence-based curriculum, skills are not taught but are built. The learner is necessarily the first actor in the construction of their skills. Learner-centred teaching strategies advocated for the implementation of competence-based curriculum in schools include: role plays, problem solving, projects, case study, simulation, discussion, and outdoor activities. On assessment, CBC emphasises on use of formative assessment, focused on the prescribed competencies.

Education CS George Magoha plays with Kimunyu Primary School pupils in Gatundu South, Kiambu County. [Courtesy]

CBC expects teachers to assess students frequently using authentic assessment methods such as portfolios, classroom or field observation, projects, oral presentations, self-assessment, interviews and peer-assessment. Authentic assessment methods are more useful for competence-based curriculum than other forms of assessment because they provide opportunity for students to demonstrate the competencies they have mastered in real life or analogous situation. More importantly, teachers are required to change from norm-referenced to criterion-referenced assessment of learners’ capabilities or competencies.

Educational inputs

Teachers also need training on the use of instructional resources in the CBC. These are the educational inputs that facilitate the implementation of curriculum. They are materials which the teacher uses to make conceptual abstraction more concrete and practical to the learner.

Our teachers are purely trained to use instructional resources in the 8-4-4 curriculum, and they, therefore, need re-orientation on CBC. Instructional materials could be regarded as the information dissemination devices used in the classroom for easy learning. The use of instructional materials promotes closer and effective communication between teacher and learners. As such, instructional materials provide teachers with interesting platforms for conveying information that motivate learners, helps the teacher to overcome physical difficulties, create reality and supply events as well as encourage active participation of learners.

Rwanda is one of the countries Kenya used to benchmark on the CBC model. It implemented CBC from the academic year 2016, and it may come as a surprise that it’s now successful. Just like in Kenya, teachers in Rwanda were not trained prior to the CBC implementation, but rather during its implementation. This, perhaps, could be the best lessons to learn now that the ship has sailed.

During the formative years after the implementation of CBC in Rwanda, teachers have been given intensive training in a cascaded fashion; where some selected teachers are invited to the national level training, these national trainers train sector-based trainers (SBTs), and in return these SBTs train the rest of their workmates at their respective sectors and schools. The cascade model has been largely utilised in the country, and has proved to be highly effective in training a lot of teachers in a little period of time on CBC through continuous professional development (CPD).

There are two types of training which Rwanda has utilised in a bid to make CBC successful. These are pre and in-service teacher training. The pre-service is a training occurring in persons still at formal education. For instance, TTCs train their student teachers for future teaching in primary schools. Another example in colleges of education where future teachers are prepared to teach in secondary schools.

A pupil at Golden Elite, Kisumu, displays her shaker on September 16, 2019. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

In-service training, on the other hand, serves as a capacity-building tool for teachers that are already practising. This is a form of continuous professional development (CPD). Kenya, therefore, ought to be taking notes from Rwanda and preparing good trainers disseminate training to teachers across the country.

There are greater variations between teachers and schools in CBC implementation which are caused by differences in individual professional development. It is important to consider teachers as the main actors in curriculum change and implementation.

Once the role of teachers is ignored, there might be lack of ownership. They can almost always have excuses, with such pretexts as; teaching materials are missing, and instructions about the implementation of the new curriculum are not clear. To overcome these pretexts, teachers have to be involved, and be given training on curriculum implementation as a way of empowering and giving them more influence to own the curriculum, and be committed to its implementation.

Participation and capacity building will bring about a sense of commitment and inspire teachers to be driven and innovative. Promoting participation of all stakeholders in the process of decision-making could be one of the strategies to use for enhancing the ownership and the implementation of CBC, and one way to solve the mentioned teachers’ challenges is to train them and conduct regular school visits.

For successful implementation of CBC, strong and regular training programmes that focus on how the new ideas are put into practice, together with the provision of teaching and learning resources need to be prioritised.

 The writer is an International Baccalaureate (IB) Educator.  [email protected]