Reality of competency-based curriculum and place of child's needs

Home Science class at Nyamachaki Primary, Nyeri, July 19, 2023. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

As Africa ponders the future of education, there is a great opportunity to embrace quality education systems beyond graduate output and literacy rates.

This calls for a bold departure where literacy and education have for long remained key indicators of development.

World Bank figures have consistently ranked Kenya highly on the continent in both literacy and education levels. But a review of Kenya’s 8-4-4 system of education by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) in 2009, found it deficient in five significant areas: It was too examination oriented, had wide content coverage, it failed to cater to special needs students, had little in ICT curriculum, and lacked career guidance for students.

More often than not, conversations about childhood development and education fail to consider the most important question: What does a child need to develop into a healthy adult? If we are to better support learners, it is important to understand the concept of academic resilience, the capacity of a student to persist and transit from one academic level to another.

Kenyan educational psychologist Janet Surum, researched resilience amongst high school students in Turkana County, ranked as the most marginalised in literacy levels, access to education, unemployment levels, infrastructure and poverty index, and historical injustices among other metrics.

Dr Surum’s perspective on resilience went beyond academic performance, and incorporates concepts like life trajectories, future careers, upward mobility, and the big question of equity in education, and how it impacts students.

Her research suggests that students in Turkana are resilient as a direct consequence of the inequities. Her research revealed interesting findings: The greatest contributing factor to academic resilience amongst students in Turkana was their personal characteristics; sense of meaning and purpose was the greatest predictor of academic resilience, followed by autonomy and sense of self, and finally, social competence (empathy, problem-solving, cooperation, and communication).

These factors were even more relevant than parental input and support. Caring and supportive relationships and high expectations were the second key factors. But meaningful participation in the school was found not to be a contributor to academic resilience.“This completely went against the biases that I had going into this research,” Surum explains, saying she expected parental involvement to be the most important factor.

Acting on KICD's recommendations, and views from various quarters, Kenya introduced the competency-based curriculum (CBC) in 2017. The CBC aims to build on key competencies such as communication and collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving, imagination and creativity, citizenship, learning to learn, self-efficacy and digital literacy.

CBC is not without its critics and flaws. Parental empowerment and engagement is a fundamental component of CBC, and many point to the increased burden on parents to help with their children’s homework and sourcing of craft items. Both actions require parents to have work schedules that allow for significant homework time, and finances for frequent purchases.

Others doubt whether the roll-out and subsequent training of educators was carried out as thoroughly as possible. Both problems allude to a frequent issue in policy change execution, when all the stakeholders, in this case educators, parents, students, and policymakers, are not satisfactorily included in key decision making.  

As the country awaits the findings of the CBC task force, the need for a mentality shift on education grows. A good education caters to individual differences in learning, and shapes each student to move towards their best self.

-Dr Surum is an educational psychologist. Ms Naliaka is Communications Officer, Mawazo Institute