End of 8-4-4 in primary school as 1.2 million join junior secondary

Minister of Education Peter Oloo Aringo announcing the 1987 KCPE results at Lenana High School. [File, Standard]

After 39 years, the 8-44 system of education, once perceived as the solution for Kenya’s skills needs by employers, was interred.

Consequently, none of the 1,406,557 candidates who sat the last Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) will have a chance to repeat, even if they want to better their grades.

Ironically the eulogy for the system was read by Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu, who presided over the burial of a system in which he was once a key player.

As a District Commissioner in Nyandarua, Machogu’s district monopolized the 8-4-4 when it topped in national examinations for several years consecutively.

It was also telling that the final rites were conducted by the man who superintended “academic excellence” at a time KCPE was such a cutthroat affair that in some students could be made to repeat for up to five years while others were banned from sitting the exams for fear they will dilute their school’s overall score.

The now moribund system of education came into being as a result of a presidential task force in 1981 which recommended that primary and secondary school learners be exposed to more science and mathematics teaching. Emphasis too was put on personal skills modeled on a US model, to make Kenyans more skilled.

Vocational skills such as art and craft were also envisioned in the new system which, for the first time, demanded that even boys learn such skills as home science and cooking. Girls too were taught some art and craft.

The theory was that 8-4-4 system would impart skills to enable one to depend on themselves and also contribute to the societies’ well-being. The curriculum change was also to cater for new experiences that led to the attainment of self-reliance.

However, after 39 years of the 8-4-4 which shaped the destiny of 26,067,181 people who were schooled in this system, the country is now bracing to walk in a new direction which will be pioneered by 1.2 million learners who will join Junior Secondary in January after siting Kenya Primary School Education Assessment tests.

According to the Kenya National Examination Council CEO David Njengere, a total of 26 million people have sat the KCPE examinations.

This system of education has not only served Kenyans but also a total of 105,000 non-citizens, including South Sundanese residents of Kaunda region who were certified after sitting KCPE between 2005 -2008.

On Thursday Machogu said: "When the first set of the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education Examination results were released 39 years ago, few would have imagined that the KCPE story would last so long.”

He added: “I must make it abundantly clear that my mission is not to sing KCPE
dirges. Rather, I am here to celebrate and remind my fellow Kenyans that we are only transitioning from a structure of education that has served us well for four decades to one that will serve us even better.”

When the first cohort sat KCPE in 1989, there was apprehension because majority had just undergone rudimentary instruction in Kiswahili which was now one of the subjects they were being examined in.

The 2023 KCPE examination top candidate Michael Warutere with jubilant Teachers and Family friends at their Riara Group Primary School Imara Daima on Thursday, November 23, 2023. [Samson Wire, Standard]

After being schooled in mother tongue in their formative years, learners were then instructed in English and never had any contact with Kiswahili in their primary years until 8-4-4 came.

And after joining secondary school, they had to study for four years, forgoing the two years of high school, but had to stay for four instead of three years at the university.

The 7-6-3 system of education was introduced in 1963, after Kenya gained independence, to accelerate the education of Africans who had hitherto been denied opportunities to further their education by the colonial government.

When the first students sat the primary leaving examination in 1963, there was a crisis because there was massive leakage which saw the number of those who passed outstrip the available Form One vacancies. The cash-strapped government encouraged parents to establish self-help harambee schools which were later elevated into formally recognized institutions. 

Although the old education system has been phased out and there has been persistent complaints of lack of skilled labour force in Kenya, a survey by the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) demonstrates how visionary the architect's 8-4-4 systems were.

According to the FKE survey conducted this year, dubbed "Kills Needs Survey Report," building and construction is still one of the most sought-after skills by employees.

Building and construction was ranked second after transport and logistics among the enterprises surveyed in the report published this month.