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Ministry defends new curriculum, says it's practical and homegrown

By Kamau Muthoni | May 2nd 2022 | 7 min read


Grade 4 learners at St Peters Elite school in Gilgil during the Competency-Based Curriculum assessment. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard


The government has defended the introduction of the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC), explaining why the 8-4-4 system was seen to be deficient.

In replies to a case where a lawyer wants the new system scrapped over a claim that it is a foreign concept being imposed on Kenyans, the government said reverting to 8-4-4 would also amount to killing the country’s economic blueprint, the Vision 2030.

Lawyer Esther Ang’awa, in her case before the High Court in Nairobi, argued that the CBC has placed a heavy economic burden on parents and guardians and its implementation should be halted until her suit is determined.

At the core of the lawyer’s case is an argument the new system was rolled out without prior preparations and consultations with key stakeholders.

Anga’awa, who has since developed cold feet over the case, argued that teachers are ill-prepared and the implementation of the new curriculum will harm children’s future.

According to her, CBC is not superior to 8-4-4 “as it does not cater to the needs of the country”.

The country settled on the 2-6-3-3-3 system of education after it emerged 8-4-4 had many gaps, the government said in its replies contained in court documents which The Standard has obtained.

Students in the old system of education did not exhibit the attributes learned after school, the government said. 

The government argues the new curriculum caters for the needs of children and secondary school leavers will earn knowledge, skills, competencies, and attitudes to succeed in the labour market.

Ang’awa had sued Education CS George Magoha, the Kenya Institute Of Curriculum Development (KICD), Teachers Service Commission (TSC), Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut), the National Assembly, and Interior CS Fred Matiang’i, seeking orders to stop the CBC rollout.

“The actions of the first to the fourth respondents, as set out in the petition, are manifestly unconstitutional and unlawful, are prejudicial to the future of the children of Kenya, and ought to be halted pending the hearing and determination of the questions raised,” Ang’awa told the court, through her lawyer Nelson Havi.

But in a series of replies, the Ministry of Education, KICD, and Kenya National Examination Council (Knec) have gone flat out to explain how the 2-6-3-3-3 system was arrived at and why it is timely.

The government explained the intense preparations and investments that had gone into the CBC since 2019 and capped it with the successful implementation of the curriculum in some counties, especially during the piloting stage.

Teacher training

TSC has also detailed how it has prepared teachers for the CBC rollout through training and sensitisation.

Knut and the Kenya Union of Post-primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) have also backed the government.

The main target of Ang’awa’s case is Early Childhood and Basic Education PS Julius Jwan. In the court documents, Dr Jwan argued that CBC was created out of the need to have the right skills that will help industrialise Kenya. The new system of education was benchmarked with countries such as Malaysia and South Korea, Jwan argued. 

The PS traced Kenya’s education reforms from 1964 when a commission was formed by then Education minister Joseph James Otiende to craft a new system that would restructure the colonial master’s system of learning. Kenya Education Commission of 1964, led by Prof Simon Ominde, was formed and had 17 members including former Finance minister David Mwiraria.

The documents filed before justices Hedwig Ong’undi, Anthony Mrima, and Anthony Ndungu’u, read that the need then arose to change from a system that restricted black Africans’ industrial, technical and vocational education.

The team came up with the 7-4-2-3 system and recommended changes in geography and history to foster national cohesion. Tanzania also adopted the same system.

In 1983, President Daniel Moi formed a Presidential Working Party led by Dr Collins Mackay and his 17-member team would engineer the 8-4-4 system.

Later, Moi formed the Maina Wanjigi committee to consider and recommend strategies to combat unemployment in Kenya. The committee, which had nine members, recommended that the 8-8-4 system identifies talents rather than having exams whose central point was academic merit.

Testing aims

Jwan said the idea was to have a system where testing would aim at technical training, academic progression, skill appreciation, originality, creativity, general personality, and attitude development. A heavy bias in content would be in the last two years of primary education in which the eighth year would be a meaningful terminal for those who did not wish to progress up the academic ladder.

The secondary school would be in two main streams - academic and trade. This would result in the creation of a National Service Scheme (current National Youth Service) as a pre-university requirement.

The Wanjigi committee also recommended that the government develops a curriculum for pre-primary children.

“Despite recommendations of the Wanjigi committee report, the government proceeded to roll out the 8-4-4 system without factoring in the pre-primary education (early childhood development education),” Jwan added.

In 1988, another group, the James Kamunge Presidential Working Party on Education and Manpower Training for the Next Decade and Beyond, recommended that vocational training should be introduced in primary schools.

They wanted the government to fund the construction of science labs and have the equipment to teach sciences. The 17-member team also urged the government to encourage communities surrounding schools to build libraries and provide books in a cost-sharing arrangement.

Again in 2000, The Davy Koech Commission of Inquiry into the Education System of Kenya was formed to investigate what children were learning and if it was adequate for the country to develop.

The 26-member team found that co-curricular activities were given prominence. It recommended that the curriculum and its delivery be redesigned in a balanced manner.

Leading role

Jwan argued that the man behind 8-4-4 was Dr Mackay, a Canadian. His deputy was an American. There was no Kenyan who played a significant role in the team. 

He argues that Mackay’s focus was not on basic education. He stated that the 8-4-4 system was a foreign idea while CBC is a homegrown solution.

The PS is of the view that the former system is unconstitutional as it does not provide for mandatory pre-primary education. Jwan argued that returning 8-4-4 as suggested by Ang’awa would amount to killing Kenya’s Vision 2030.

He stated that a 2011 task force, led by Prof Dauglas Okoth, recommended a 2-6-6-2-3 system after finding that 8-4-4 was deficient as students did not exhibit the attributes learned after school. 

CBC was introduced through Basic Education Curriculum Framework 2017 and Sessional Paper No. 1 of 2019 on the policy framework for reforming education and training for sustainable development in Kenya.

“Asian and Latin America countries, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, and Mexico have reformed their secondary education and training systems focusing on the quality and relevance of learning outcomes,” Jwan argued.

The lawyer argued that CBC cannot stand without amending Basic Education Act No 4 of 2013. Ang’awa said overhauling 8-4-4 is illegal and vague since it converts a primary school to a secondary institution without a clear-cut transition process.

“The effect of this overhaul and replacement of the system and structure of basic education is to designate a primary school as a secondary school and obfuscate the dichotomy between these two components of the basic education structure necessary for the transition from primary education to secondary education without amendment of Basic Education Act No 4 of 2013,” Ang’awa’s 162-page petition reads.

Amina proposals

She argued that concerns raised on the implementation of CBC by the former Education CS Amina Mohamed (currently Sports CS) were never addressed.

In 2018, she said, Amina recommended that the CBC should be halted until the hitches that were emerging are fully addressed.

The lawyer said the government has not allocated money to cater for teachers’ training, purchase of equipment, and building facilities to effectively roll out the new curriculum, a claim TSC has disputed.

TSC argued that during the 7-4-3-2 system, there was no capacity building for teachers. At the same time, the commission was not involved in the review of the 8-4-4 system.

“Despite the defects that accompanied the inception of the 8-4-4 system, the Kenyan teachers relied on pre-service training and competencies, mastered the concept of the new curriculum, and successfully implemented the 8-4-4 system,” Dr Reuben Nthamburi, TSC’s Director in charge of Quality Assurance and Standards, said in the commission’s reply to Ang’awa’s case.

On CBC teachers’ training, Nthamburi argued that more than 229,292 teachers had been trained by August 2021.

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