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February 23, 2019

ALEX AWITI: Putting new curriculum on hold is a chance to get things right

Education CS Amina Mohamed with KCPE candidates of Olympic primary school Nairobi on October 29, 2018. /EZEKIEL AMING'A
Education CS Amina Mohamed with KCPE candidates of Olympic primary school Nairobi on October 29, 2018. /EZEKIEL AMING'A

The full roll-out of Kenya’s new curriculum is now on hold until 2020. Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed’s decision was decisive and in the best interests of the country. Mohamed was dealt a bad hand by her predecessor. It was only a matter of time before someone pulled the plug on 2-6-3-3-3.

Early this year, former Education CS Fred Matiang’i and the chairman of the KICD Board reassured the public that we were ready for a national roll-out of the new curriculum. Clearly, this was premature. The decision by Mohamed is a bold acknowledgement by the government that there is still work to be done before the proposed curriculum is ready for full implementation.

The current system, 8-4-4, has been criticised by politicians, employers, the public and some educators. The syllabus was considered crammed with subjects, which were long on breadth and shallow in depth. The pioneers of the 8-4-4 who completed high school were considered half-baked, not ready to enter university. In the early years of the 8-4-4, university professors struggled to figure the right level of first-year introductory or foundational courses.

At the time it was introduced, the 8-4-4 system was lauded as practical, vocational-oriented and the antidote to the 7-4-2-3 system that was considered theoretical or academic. We have come full circle. The 8-4-4 system is thought to be theoretical, and offering little room for students less gifted in taking standardised test scores to discover their talents.

Somehow we turned 8-4-4 into an exam-oriented curriculum. We boiled out all the fun and practical or vocational aspects of the curriculum and kept only the parts of the curriculum that was easy to teach, and which work well in the standardised national exam and regurgitation model of education we have now perfected.

According to Mohamed, we do not have adequate instruction materials, teachers have not been properly prepared and critical physical infrastructure is not in place. Speaking to the press, Mohamed, said the roll-out of the new curriculum was poorly planned and hastily introduced in schools. This was a powerful indictment.

We have a chance now to go back to the drawing board and ask hard questions of our education system. What is the outcome we want? What should be the attributes of an educated Kenyan? What should a child finishing primary school be able to do? How should they think or reason? What would be the appropriate assessment?

I believe there is no inferior curriculum. A curriculum is as good as the teachers who deliver it. Countries with the best education outcomes in the world do not recruit teachers from the individuals who failed to enter university. In Finland, teachers have at least a master’s degree and have the same status as lawyers and doctors.

We must involve teachers in the curriculum review. It is imprudent to hand down to teachers a curriculum formulated by clever university professors and government bureaucrats.

Alex O Awiti is the Vice Provost and director of the East Africa Institute at Aga Khan University

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