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CS Magoha’s dismissal of CBC critics does little to inspire confidence in Kenyans

By Kariuki Waihenya | September 23rd 2021
Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha at Uhuru Gardens Primary School in October last year. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

The Competency-Based Curriculum, which is now in its fifth year of implementation, has attracted a sustained gush of fury and vitriol that has left the Government breathless trying to give a reasoned response.

From non-governmental organisations, to parents, education experts and politicians, the system has been the target of wave after wave of negative publicity, a disastrous situation for a major policy shift of its kind.

The main bone of contention has been the financial cost of the new system for families and the fact that there are existential sticking points that the Government has not thrashed out yet. 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.

Education experts say the Government has not explained clearly where junior secondary schools will be domiciled, how enrolment in 2023 when the first CBC cohort will join secondary schools together with the last 8-4-4 KCPE candidates will be carried out, how assessments will be done and graded, and how learners will choose their preferred schools.

While it’s not unusual for major policy changes to attract public resistance and skepticism, the Government’s failure to counter the opprobrium has not only been curious but has also added more fuel to the fire.

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha’s maladroit handling of the public relations disaster has been disgraceful. His recent statement that CBC is here to stay "whether you like it or not" smacks of blatant arrogance and dismissive attitude from a professor who should instead be working hard to inspire public confidence in the system through a systematic and shrewd communication strategy aimed at dispelling the misgivings about the system in a compelling and engaging way.

Despite the Government’s communication deficiency, it has invested billions of shillings in the new system and done a lot of work to ensure the change-over is concluded without much fuss.

One area in which the Government has cleared much ground is in the training of teachers and publication of course books and teachers’ guides. According to the Government’s own figures, more than 200,000 teachers–about three quarters of the whole teaching force–have been trained on the new curriculum and thousands of textbooks and support materials printed.

At the teacher training colleges, more than 1,300 tutors have been trained, while universities offering the Bachelors in Education programme have revised their courses and submitted them to the Commission for University Education for review, tweaked their pedagogy, and revised their curricula.

In addition, various committees have been set up to work on the transition, and regular consultative meetings are taking place between Education ministry officials, university deans, the Kenya National Examinations Council, Teachers Service Commission, the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, Kenya Institute of Special Education and various other stakeholders in both the public and private sectors.

Besides, thousands of learners from pre-primary up to Grade Five are already at the deep end of the new system and, despite the cynicism, the country is aware of the immutable fact that 8-4-4 is on its deathbed just like the 7-4-2-3 system before it.

In a word, the Education ministry is engaged in a huge amount of commendable work involving billions of shillings in the background, so why does it seem to be sleepwalking through a communication nightmare?

The ministry has done an excellent job clamping down on cheating in national examinations, amping up transition from primary to secondary school despite the congestion and teacher shortage problems, and digitising the Form One enrolment process. For these achievements, the ministry has gained sterling public endorsement, which it has unfortunately been unable to take advantage of in the introduction of CBC.

Because the change-over from 8-4-4 to 2-6-6-3 was not an afterthought or emergency shift, it is hard to understand why the ministry is under so much pressure to create public approval for the new system.

Early in the week, senior ministry officials directly dealing with the new system met the Kenya Editors Guild in an attempt to explain to the public why CBC is good for the country, the amount of work done or planned, and hitches encountered so far and how they are being resolved. It was a commendable effort to create a buy-in for the system through the people who run media houses and set or amplify agenda for the society.

Yet the effort yielded little fruit because the story that all media houses ran with on that day and the following day was Prof Magoha’s arrogant dismissal of the critics.

According to literature on the CBC and the global education trends, CBC in a nutshell has clear advantages in that it is not exam-oriented, it focuses on learner interests and talents, and it creates intelligible career pathways all the way from pre-primary to tertiary education.

For it to succeed, Prof Magoha must slow down on his harsh rhetoric and give his technocrats free hand to engage the public through regular press briefings, roundtable talks and interviews with print, broadcast and social media. If the public criticism persists, the country is going to witness well-to-do parents enrolling their children in international schools thus creating huge inequalities in our education system and leaving public schools in ignominy.

The train may have left the station, as Prof Magoha said at the editors’ forum, but it may be headed for a great deal of upheaval and eventual ruin to our children’s grief.

The writer is a communications consultan

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