Last week, the ministry of education launched a process that would review the 8-4-4 education system. Jogoo House hinted that the system would be replaced by another one that would lay emphasis on the preparatory stages of early childhood education. The 8-4-4 system has been vilified for producing half-baked people especially at the secondary school level. When these graduates transit to college and university, great instructional and behavioural gaps are often noticed. Chief among them is their alleged inability to carry out basic scholarly research, ask or answer any questions.
Further, 8-4-4 graduates are allegedly not socialised to further any great virtue or custom in the school system. It’s all systems go to finish the syllabi and pass examinations. Thus they land in college mesmerised by the sudden freedom and life out of books, and which they fill with an amazing propensity for gregariousness, debauchery and self gratification. However, there are those who argue that unlike the former education system, many 8-4-4 graduates are very versatile and look beyond the world of formal work and become renowned entrepreneurs.
Gibson Kimani, a teacher who schooled in the earlier 7-4-2-3 system, says 8-4-4 is crowded and does not augur for any intellectual development of the mind. “The subject coverage is shallow and pupils really never go into any depth in any area,” he says.
Kimani, who teaches literature, mourns that academia was long lost in the 8-4-4 and all he does is simply to browse over the set books with pupils in time for the examinations. “The time I am allocated and the calibre of pupils that I get means that I cannot teach literature for intellectual nourishment but I often teach minimum skills needed to answer the KCSE questions,” he says. “Actually the problem lies in their preparatory years in primary school and they come to high school with a baggage of language deficiency and which we certainly cannot redress in four years and also teach literature,” he says.
Kimani calls for the disbandment of 8-4-4 system on account that it only promotes memory and cramming of facts. The 8-4-4 is short on virtues and nationalistic ideals, adds Kimani. “If the long queues of the learned at foreign embassies in search of travel documents to leave the country is anything to go by, then there is something fundamentally wrong in what is taught in school,” he says.
He suggests that the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development must take a fresh look at what is taught in school to realign it with devolution and specific counties’ needs. He says the annual Teacher of the Year Award that is run by the Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association should deliberately reward teachers in subjects that foster national values and enterprise like Kiswahili, history and agriculture. “The bulk of awardees so far have been teachers of the English language, the vehicle through which mesmerised Kenyans of the 8-4-4 generation are lured to the lie of mzungu life,” he says. “And making religious education optional in secondary school is the 8-4-4s coup de grace,” he says.
But Cynthia Carol, a university student who has gone through the 8-4-4, says the system is good if it can be modified to include more practical lessons in a wide range of subjects. “With a proper budget, the 8-4-4 can be exciting with pupils doing many hands-on activities in technical and science subjects,” she says. “Due to low resources many schools, they have opted to offer a lean curriculum of the minimum examinable subjects and all lessons are theory,” she says. This is what makes the 8-4-4 look sparse and meaningless. She adds that with a little teacher creativity, the cost of practical lessons need not be exorbitant in some subjects like home science and agriculture.
Knut secretary general Wilson Sossion says the 8-4-4 system is good in principle. “There is nothing mortally wrong with the system if we can give greater emphasis on the technical subjects where the less endowed pupils can shine,” he says. He gives the examples of wood work, metal work, aviation, agriculture, home science, drawing and design, music and computer science.
Sossion calls for the spotting of talent early in areas like sports, drama and music and supporting such pupils so that they can align their interests with the appropriate subjects as this would minimise wastage from the 8-4-4. “A way must be found of educating such talented pupils in the right colleges instead of subjecting them to the full bouquet of subjects and examinations with the resultant wastage we often witness in the KCSE,” he says.
Defending the track record of the 8-4-4 so far, Sossion says the system produces pupils who excel especially on further studies abroad. “A good number of young entrepreneurs and entertainers in Kenya today are products of the 8-4-4 system,” he says.
Sossion calls for the employment of more teachers, provision of resources in schools and modifications of specific areas of the 8-4-4 system to make it work of the nation. “Otherwise overhauling the entire system before we have known where it doesn’t work would be very costly mistake,” he says.