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How CBC downplays the role of assessment in learning

By Maxwell Masava | January 14th 2022
A student at St Peter's Boys Secondary School Mumias in Kakamega sits for KCSE. [File, Standard]

The government has downplayed the place of national examinations or assessments in the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC). And while stakeholders have not expressed their anxieties, the worry is real.

Education officials say learners will not endure the stress of national examinations associated with 8-4-4, thanks to CBC. The students will learn without the shadow of exams. The government has replaced what they now describe as summative assessments or examinations with formative examinations.

The purpose of formative assessment is to assess how well teaching and learning are taking place. This is aimed at improving teachers’ ability to teach and learners’ ability to learn. It is used to identify strengths and weaknesses after which the strength is maintained or improved, while the identified weakness is corrected for improved curriculum delivery going forward.

The purpose of summative assessment, on the other hand, is to evaluate student learning at the end of curriculum content by comparing it against some standard or benchmark. KCPE and KCSE are formative examinations since they come at the end of the primary and secondary education cycle.

We have had only two summative exams under the 8-4-4 system. This was unlike the 7-4-2-3 system of education, where the students sat four summative exams to complete basic education. All students sat an examination at the end of the primary education cycle. We had Kenya Junior Certificate of Education, Kenya Certificate of Education and Kenya Advanced Certificate of Education.

The 8-4-4 has not been as examination-oriented as its critics would like us to believe. The real exam-oriented system if there was one, was the 7-4-2-3 system. However, as we noted, a curriculum worth its salt is a continuum, a system with elements all of which play a critical role. Fiddle, belittle or in any way degrade any element and you impair the integrity of the whole system.

Like all other elements, rigorous content, rigorous instructional materials, rigorous education and training of teachers, rigorous teaching, and rigorous assessment are all critical for a strong education system.

You cannot fiddle with any of them, least of all with an assessment system, and hope to retain or protect the integrity of the curriculum delivery at the school level.

Whatever name it is called, examinations are necessary to maintain standards. Be it at the school level or national, be they formative or summative, they measure improvements in teaching and (continuous) reform of the curriculum. Both provide an external quality assurance mechanism and supply important feedback on the effectiveness of curriculum teaching.

They also motivate students to study and—equally important—help parents and guardians to know how well their children are learning. They have the chance to intervene when things are wrong before it is too late.

The demonisation of exams under CBC is therefore unfortunate. Assessment is a necessary part. Exams tell us what students have learned and have not. An excellent education system implies that assessments will tell the mastery of knowledge gained by learners; it will also show how well students have mastered the skills, aptitudes and attitudes inherent in the curriculum content.

Quality examination questions not only test knowledge acquired but also the application of the knowledge in dealing with problems. The government has—given the foregoing—not credibly explained the reasons for downgrading the place of assessment in CBC.

The 8-4-4 system is not the alleged examination-crazed system that Kenyans take it to be. What has made it look full of examinations is the disappointing realignment of curriculum delivery to the national examinations. Schools are obsessively focused on drilling students for examinations.

Students in primary and secondary schools sit far too many internal and interschool examinations than is good for learning purposes. Administrators in primary schools unduly expose learners to too many commercial examinations than is warranted by the best educational practices anywhere in the world. This happens throughout the term thus compromising proper syllabus coverage. Students in secondary schools aren’t spared, either.

They are forced to sit an examination when they open and several others during the term before finally sitting for the last examination before they close the school. This feature of schooling dominates reports on students’ unrest and riots in schools.

Regrettably, schools offering the 8-4-4 curriculum are more examination centres than the learning centres they ought to be. It is this that has messed up the lives of our children and not national examinations. It is this that has denied children to lead normal lives like their counterparts in other educational jurisdictions. 

Stress among learners will end when the Ministry of Education guards against abuse of the controls associated with sound educational policy, and examinations as provided for in Schedule Four of the Constitution.

Downgrading the place of examinations does not address the toxicity that has impaired the right teaching and learning atmosphere in our schools.

Maxwell Masava is a parent.  

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