Kenya is on the throes of curriculum reform to align education to Vision 2030, the 2010 Constitution, the expectations of society and the realities of the 21st century. Increasingly, society, and especially parents and students, are concerned about finding work after graduation.
Employers want work-ready graduates. We hear legitimate concerns about degree programmes, which have what employers, parents and students consider qualifications that are not marketable. Specialisation in history, philosophy and religion are increasingly considered a waste of public resources.
Governments in East Africa are putting greater emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math courses. Ministries of Education have suggested that they would defund academic programmes in humanities because their contributions to national visions, which emphasise industrial and technological advancement, are negligible at best.
But curriculum review for the 21st century and beyond must be founded on and informed by a fundamental question: what is the value or purpose of education? How we answer this question then determines the content and the models of delivery.
One of the most important questions every society must ask and answer is; how shall we educate our children? Finding a satisfactory answer requires that agree on what we are educating for. The goal or purpose of education must then shape the content and models of delivery.
Kenya’s proposed curriculum framework is based on national education goals, which include: Promoting national unity; promoting socioeconomic and technological needs for national development; promoting positive attitudes towards environmental protection and promoting sound moral and religious values.
Moreover, Sessional Paper No 2 of 2015 recommends a competency-based curriculum. In the context of Kenya’s basic education curriculum framework, competency is understood as the ability to acquire, develop and apply appropriate knowledge and skills.
Seven areas of competency are identified. These include critical thinking and problem solving, imagination and creativity, communication and collaboration, learning to learn and citizenship.
Other areas of curriculum focus are values and community service learning. The values component seeks to respond to the fact that youngsters are “growing up without the values, positive attitudes and psychosocial competencies needed to function as responsible citizens”.
Through community-service learning students will grapple with real-world problems that are co-determined with community partners, with the goal of making learning relevant while enhancing analytical skills, self-efficacy, civic and ethical responsibility.
Kenya’s new curriculum framework recognises that education is an ideal of human development. It recognises that education is more than schooling and acquisition of professional, technical or vocational skills.
When our country is more fractured than at any time in our history, education must help reveal what is best in us. The framers of our curriculum must think of education as dialogue. Framing education as a dialogue will enable our society to understand the centrality of the moral and intellectual virtues in civilised life.
Dialogue is compassionate and engaged. Dialogue is inextricably bound with reason and the pursuit of truth and understanding. Dialogue is about open-mindedness, abandoning fixed beliefs and prejudices in pursuit of truth and consensus.
Alex O Awiti is the director of the East Africa Institute at Aga Khan University.