Rolling out new syllabus in ASAL will not be easy

Education CS George Magoha in Kisumu on February 6, 2021. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

President Uhuru Kenyatta recently unveiled the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) which will replace the decades-old 8-4-4 system. The need to recalibrate our education system cannot be gainsaid.

However, in addition, it is important to provide education that redresses historical disadvantages among marginalised communities.

Whereas Kenya has adequate resources to improve education, Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL) and other disadvantaged areas have continued to lag behind due to severe geographical, ethnic and cultural disparities.

Lack of textbooks and other instructional materials, inadequate classrooms and staff rooms, acute shortage of teachers and insecurity, and well-established school feeding programmes are key constraints that limit children's access to quality education.

It can be argued that due to lack of investment in basic education in the ASAL regions, marginalised communities still live in early days of independence in terms of access to quality education.

But there is another category of disadvantaged people; those who live in abject poverty in urban areas (slums and informal settlements).

Nomadic communities are found in North Eastern, parts of Upper Eastern, North Rift and pockets of Coast region. ASAL regions are characterised by periodic droughts and famines. Most residents of these areas move from place to place in search of pasture and water for their animals. This makes schooling a nightmare.

There is no doubt that implementing the new curriculum in these areas will be a Herculean task. For CBC to be successfully implemented, an institution should have adequate classrooms, spacious staff rooms, at least three well-trained teachers per class, not more than 25 pupils per class and adequate teaching and learning tools.

In addition, boards of management members, parents associations and local school communities should be sensitised on the new curriculum. All these components are seriously missing in marginalised regions and other disadvantaged areas.

Due to the challenges facing the education sector in marginalised regions, there has been a policy framework supported by both World Bank and Global Partnership for Education to address issues of access to education. However, little progress has been achieved and schools in these areas continue to perform badly at all levels of teaching and learning.

The Education Policy Framework has put in place measures to address the issues of access to education in ASAL areas. These include low cost boarding schools to provide access to learners as communities migrate in search for pasture; special bursaries for ASAL regions; special bursaries for girls from North Eastern region under the Unicef/government sponsorships; school feeding programme; mobile schools and grants to mitigate against hunger. Unfortunately, nothing much has been achieved.

In urban slums and informal settlements, there have been efforts to provide up-to-standard non-formal institutions at both primary and secondary levels. This is in addition to public primary schools. These institutions do not have regular programmes because, more often than not, the learners are involved in income-generating activities to support their families.

The teachers are mainly volunteers and are untrained. Hence, attempting to introduce regular programmes in these institutions through implementation of CBC could prove to be a very big challenge.

According to a World Bank report, Marsabit, Turkana, Wajir, Mandera, Garissa, Tana River, Samburu, Narok, West Pokot, Isiolo, Lamu, Kajiado, Kitui, Kilifi, Kwale, Laikipia, Baringo, Taita Taveta and Elgeyo Markwet counties have high school dropouts, truancy, high rate of absenteeism, lack of enough teachers, early marriages and inadequate educational infrastructure and teaching/learning resources.

In some schools, staff rooms double up as head teachers’ office, residence for teachers and stores. Shortage of desks and students sharing the few available learning materials makes teaching a nightmare. In such circumstances, the rollout of CBC poses a challenge to teachers, the school community, parents associations and boards of management.

It is on the strength of the joint report by the World Bank and Global Partnership for Education that many people feel the implementation of CBC among marginalised communities might face huge challenges unless the existing gaps in education and retrogressive cultural norms are addressed fully.

Much more needs to be done to actualise the Nomadic Education Policy Framework to address the myriad challenges in provision of education in ASAL areas.

-Mr Ali is a former secondary school teacher in Mandera. [email protected]