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Special report: Is CBC going to unravel like the 8-4-4 system?

By Kariuki Waihenya | September 22nd 2021


Standard Five and Six pupils at Paka Hills Primary School in Tiaty ,Baringo County, share a classroom. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

The criticism and skepticism that has been directed at the Competency-Based Curriculum carries an eerie sense of déjà vu especially for those who went through the 7-4-2-3 system of education.

When the 8-4-4 curriculum was introduced in 1985 to replace the 7-4-2-3 system, it was faulted for being burdensome, too costly and fickle.

The system was billed as the panacea to Kenya’s youth unemployment problem because it would focus on attitudinal and skills preparation for the world of work especially self-employment, leading learners towards self-reliance.

On the other hand, the 7-4-2-3 system was said to have been too academic, unsuitable for direct employment, too elitist and individualistic. The system had failed to deliver as the numbers of unemployed school leavers swelled, increasing frustration in education that is supposed to be a medium for social mobility.

The 8-4-4 was therefore put in place following the Mackay Report of 1982, based on the assumption that it would inculcate in learners skills leading to employment in the formal job market or self-reliance in the informal sector.

To achieve this, the system had to have an expanded curriculum across the basic education sector with a singular emphasis on practical and vocational subjects in addition to the traditional academic orientation. Some of the new subjects introduced included Art and Craft, Agriculture, Home Science and Business Education especially in upper primary. Lessons in drawing, painting, graphic design, collage and mosaic, clay and pottery, leatherwork, metal work and wood work, were to be covered under Art and Craft.

The Agriculture subject was meant to show that farming is decent and profitable and included lessons on poultry, bee-keeping and soil conservation, among others. Home Science comprised home management, clothing and textiles, and food and nutrition while Business Education was meant to equip learners with entrepreneurship skills.

This focus on technical and vocational subjects triggered a wave of challenges which led to criticism and anger from parents because the system became too burdensome to learners, teachers had not been prepared for the changes, and schools did not have the infrastructure to handle the changes. A common criticism was that learners were having to carry big heavy bags to school because of the increase in subjects, and that they carried home too much homework that was punishing and depriving them of time to relax and have fun.

Dissatisfied with the system, many well-to-do parents transferred their children to Uganda and private schools around Nairobi offering the A-level system, or other international curricula such as the International General Certificate for Secondary Education.

This resistance by parents and lack of support from the teaching fraternity led to a review of the system with the Kamunge Report (1992) proposing a reduction of subjects to be sat for from ten to eight. Most of the subjects were integrated while others were scrapped.

In a nutshell, most of the new subjects were withdrawn from the curriculum while others were retained but made non-examinable. As a result of this constant tinkering with the curriculum, education became more examination-oriented defeating the original purpose of giving learners vocation skills geared towards self-reliance.

Rote learning became the norm and teachers merely concentrated on drilling children on examination questions to achieve high scores in the national examinations.

With the 8-4-4 having failed to help the country achieve the desired objectives, the Government in 2017 introduced the Competency-Based Curriculum whose main philosophy is a focus on learners’ talents, interests and skills and a de-emphasis on examinations.

Like 8-4-4 before it, the system, now in its fifth year of implementation has been criticised for being too expensive for families and burdensome to learners. Parents complain that they have to buy computers or tablets, install internet at home, buy more books and printing paper and a host of other items for their children’s daily homework in addition to having to help the learners with their home work every evening including weekends.

Still, the system is hobbled by the same problems that bedeviled the introduction of the 8-4-4 because schools are suffering from severe teacher shortages running to more than 100,000 across the basic education sector.

Due to the Government’s campaign to achieve 100 per cent transition from primary to secondary schools, the institutions are congested and the infrastructure inadequate to create a healthy learning environment.

Just last week, Basic Education Principal Secretary Julius Jwan said the system is ripe for review, even before the first cohort is through with primary school. Though he explained that a review after five years is a global standard practice, the plan invites the suspicion that the Government was not prepared to roll out the system.

According to the PS, the review will target books and the teaching methodology, which lie at the core of any education system. Is the CBC going to evolve just like its predecessor or simply unravel?

Still, a parent, Esther Angawa, has gone to court seeking the suspension of the system, saying it has imposed an economic burden on children, teachers, parents and caregivers.  She cites instances of procuring course books, learning materials and curriculum designs “without regard to the real dynamics of the Kenyan population and the needs of the society.”

For the CBC, it has been a bumpy start right from the first hurdle and the Education ministry appears to be under pressure to endear it to the public and quell the skepticism.

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