Copy-and-paste CBC not suited for Kenya

It is not too late to scrap the Ministry of Education’s introduction of the so-called Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC). It is a poorly-designed policy initiative which so far has been horrendously bungled at every stage of implementation. We definitely need to reform our education system, but this is not the best way to do it. Teachers do not like the change. Parents are unaware of the real contents of the change, and fear that it will hurt their already stretched budgets. And education researchers oppose it on pedagogical grounds – it is unclear if this is the best way to teach pupils in the Kenya we have.

Education is not just about producing plumbers. It is about producing thinking citizens and human beings who can participate as full members of society and realise their potential – whatever that may be.

Also, education systems have long-run effects. Consider our neighbours. We have historically bested them in human capital development because we had a minimally functional education system since the 1960s. Most of our neighbors are still paying the price for poor choices that their leaders made decades ago. We should not saddle future generations of Kenyans with the same. Especially when numerous education experts have been sounding the alarm bells for all to hear.

So where is the problem with the new curriculum? The fundamental problem with Kenya’s CBC is that it is a copy-and-paste job that is not suitable for our context. The curriculum requires greater parental involvement and investment. Its success crucially relies on more teacher attention to individual pupils. It hopes to attract more government funding for education. And its infrastructure needs are well beyond what currently exists, even in middle class public schools in Nairobi. In a nutshell, the good people at the Kenyan Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) appear to have simply phoned it in. There is no evidence that they did the bare minimum research and commonsense homework needed to design an education system that will work in the real Kenya we have.

Essentially, the constraint we have is that we need an education system that can work on the cheap, with minimal parental involvement. On the cheap because we cannot rely on the government to sufficiently fund the sector. We have limited resources, a limited number of teachers, and lack state of the art infrastructure. On the part of parents, we need not burden them too much. But as a matter of public policy, we should design an education system that is robust to minimal parental involvement. Not all our parents went to school, or are sufficiently motivated or prepared to monitor their children’s progress.

All to say that it is rather absurd that the people we pay to think critically on how to educate our children arrived at CBC, as currently designed, as the best way to make our education system better. It is a curriculum that is designed for a high-income, largely urban country. We are neither of those things. Kenya is still a crushingly poor country, where millions of children learn under hardship conditions – schools with latrines, and not indoor plumbing; classrooms that are barely holding together (some learn under trees), and teachers that are poorly-trained and not motivated. Our average teacher/pupil ratio is about 1:56. Does this sound like a ratio that is conducive to increased teacher attention per pupil? Let us not play games with the future of Kenya. Our children deserve better.

- The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University