New curriculum not a solution to Kenya's education problems

In Summary

• The goals of the new CBC curriculum are without doubt well intended and should not be the subject of debate.

• We are grossly mistaken to think that the problem of our graduates is a problem of the 8.4.4 system.

Education CS George Magoha, county education officer Luka Kagongo consult as a Migori Primary School candidate sits for his KPE paper.
Education CS George Magoha, county education officer Luka Kagongo consult as a Migori Primary School candidate sits for his KPE paper.
Image: FILE

Prof. Magoha, you are unarguably one of the world’s wisest.

Hence, I believe that your golden hands will handle the issues being raised about the CBC curriculum with the same wisdom that you have demonstrated on similar or even more complex matters.

I believe that you will not crush those who attempt to criticise the CBC system of education. I trust that as a wise man, you will change your position and tact, and listen more carefully to your stakeholders.

The goals of the new CBC curriculum are without doubt well intended and should not be the subject of debate.

However, the subject of debate for me is and should be whether the CBC system is an economically optimal solution to the perceived gaps in the 8.4.4 system and to the problems facing our education sector. To which my immediate answer is a big NO.

Prof, we cannot be too focused on the merits of CBC without asking ourselves the following questions: What were the goals of 8.4.4. system?

To what extent were those goals achieved or not achieved? Why? And what is the optimal solution to fixing the gaps in 8.4.4. system?

Are the gaps in 8.4.4. system a problem of curriculum design or of poor and inadequate implementation of what the curriculum was ideally meant to be?

Is it necessary and wise to overhaul the system or to address specific gaps in the 8.4.4.system? How come, Canada, the country from which the 8.4.4 system was borrowed, is one the world’s most advanced, and technologically sophisticated world economies and continues to thrive on an 8.4.4 system of education?

How is it that Kenyan graduates, who are graduates of a purportedly failed 8.4.4 system, are arguably some of the most versatile, inventive and innovative people in the world?

They thrive and adapt in nearly any circumstance, and nearly most fields of work. While, this may not be wholly attributable to the 8.4.4 system, it is not disputable that the system contributes to the preparation of such versatile and innovative people.

These questions are critical and cannot be ignored. First, because the huge public expenditure estimated at KES 356 billion, required to implement the CBC.

And two, the fact that no system of education, including the CBC is not and will never be perfect.

In other words, the cost-benefit analysis of implementing CBC needs a more critical and comprehensive thought before the rash to implement it. It therefore requires a critical consideration of diverse views.

I hereby join other concerned Kenyans to table my opposing views about the CBC. I hope not to be crushed but to be either objectively challenged or graciously forgiven for my ignorance.

First I need to clarify that I am not blind to the fact that we are increasingly starting to see graduates who are not only incapable of applying their knowledge but also who can hardly recall what they learned in class despite their good papers.

The result is that employers are increasingly shunning our graduates, further increasing unemployment. This is undeniable. It is unfortunate.

My point of departure is that we are grossly mistaken to think that the problem of our graduates is a problem of the 8.4.4 system.

History has it that 8.4.4 aimed at a versatile and self-reliant individual. 8.4.4 aimed at a generalist-specialist kind of individual, who is a systems thinker and innovator but also a master of their own speciality able to turn ideas into practice, unlike CBC which aims at pure specialists.

If you consult any qualified HR professional from anywhere in the world, you will be told that generalist-specialists are more handy in the 21st century work place than a pure generalist or pure specialist.

The former president Daniel Moi’s vision about 8.4.4, could not have been that naïve after all. Did our 8.4.4 system attempt to achieve these objectives?

Yes, to some extent. It’s in the public domain to confirm that Kenyan graduates, despite the challenges we have in our education sector, are some of the most competitive professionals in the world.

So where is the problem with our education system? The tragedy of our Kenyan graduates in recent times, is not a tragedy of 8.4.4 curriculum design.

It’s a tragedy of curriculum implementation deficiencies. It’s a problem of dishonesty in national exams with the result that the wrong people find themselves into the right professions, and the right people into the wrong professions.

Thanks to Dr. Matiangi and Prof. Magoha (you) for arresting this issue. We are left to wonder whether this will be sustained. However, I remain optimistic that with your leadership it will.

Secondly, the tragedy of our 8.4.4 system graduates is that of a disproportionately low number of qualified TSC teachers against an exponentially increasing student population year in year out.

Redirect the KES 358 billion in employing a proportionate number of teachers to scale with the exponential increase in student population.

Third, the tragedy of our graduates, is that of a majority of our learners in elementary school having to contend with deplorable learning conditions.

When many learners with huge potential of inventiveness and innovativeness, have severely limited access to career guidance resources, and to art, science and technical laboratories to nurture their talents.

We will continue losing it when our high school graduates, have to rash at the last minute to fill college placement forms with no clear direction on what they were meant to be.

One would argue that CBC is meant to address this issue. But that would be an economic overkill. You do not need an overhaul of an education system to address this issue. CBC will not automatically address these.

Address these by equipping all elementary schools with qualified teachers who are also qualified career counsellors. Equip all schools with art, craft, design, computer and other technical laboratories and theatres.

Fourth, the tragedy of our graduates, is a tragedy of the teaching profession in Kenya remaining perceived as a third class career choice for those who missed their ideal careers.

Address this by making the profession as attractive as other professions. Make teaching a first class profession.

For example, your recent policy on scrapping the Bachelor of Education degree program and substituting it with a BA/BSc followed with a postgraduate diploma in education, for me is a highly welcome move.

It will strengthen the rigor of quality of teachers. However, this will and should come with expectations.

You will need to improve the remuneration of teachers to be nearly comparable with that of other professionals.

This way, you will attract the best not only in terms of academic and professional merit but in terms of a genuine calling to teach.

I urge you to examine Finland’s education system. Teachers, are some of the highly qualified, highly paid and highly respected professionals in Finland.

In Finland, qualifying for a profession in teaching in elementary school is as hard as, if not harder than, qualifying for a profession in medicine but the reward is also attractive.

Fifth, we started to lose it, when vocationally oriented subjects such as art and craft, music, home science etc were eliminated from primary school, and woodwork, metalwork, building and construction, power mechanics, electricity were removed from secondary schools.

These vocational subjects ensured that class eight or form four graduates who for one or reason or the other were unable to continue with education were nearly market ready.

Indeed some of the most successful tradesmen and women Kenya prides of today are beneficiaries of these 8.4.4 subjects. Bring back these subjects.

Sixth, the tragedy of our graduates is a tragedy of some universities starting to fail to wear their expected universal character.

When some universities started co-existing with and situated on top of restaurants and bars.

When some universities became institutions of tribes, clans and kinsmen. When some universities started hiring academic staff largely guided by ethnic inclinations while qualifications and merit became secondary.

When some universities embarked on a rash to introduce too many programs without a proportionate increase in the number of academic staff and proportionate expansion of physical infrastructure.

When some universities started cutting corners in their admission criteria of students, faced with stiff competition for students. CBC will not cure these. Crack your whip and sanitize colleges and universities that continue to operate below quality standards.

Seventh, the tragedy of our graduates will persist as long as government funding of universities and tertiary colleges will remain dismal.

The rain will persist provided our university lecturers will continue hopping from one university to another part-timing to make ends meet, instead of concentrating on quality teaching, research, innovation and production.

Prof, persuade the President of the Republic of Kenya, to consider having BIG FIVE and not just BIG FOUR, with education being one of the BIG FIVE, over and above the four that we know.

Quality education is the foundation for the BIG FOUR yet it misses among the BIG agenda. He is a listening and caring president.

Convince him to radically empower universities and colleges to focus on what they were meant to do – research, innovation and production.

Let the government pour more finances into these institutions for quality research and innovation.

Let government significantly improve the salary and remuneration of our lecturers so they will have no incentive to hop from college to college, part-timing, to make ends meet, while compromising the quality of education they impart.

This will also incentivise them to undertake more research and produce useful innovations.

Eighth, the tragedy of our graduates, is a tragedy of our students having to hustle for industrial attachment during their studies.

Ninth, the tragedy of our graduates, is that of brilliant novel ideas of our 8.4.4 graduates being preyed upon by unscrupulous but a few financially endowed individuals.

This exploitation won’t vanish provided we do not rethink our intellectual property protection system. We will lose it, when class eight or four graduates of 8.4.4 system, who attempt to invent aircraft, like those previously aired on our national media houses, once upon a time, have no one to support them to nurture the inventions into usable products and enable mass production.

Prof, tell the government to rethink our IP protection system to insulate great innovative ideas of Kenyans from falling into greedy hands.

Many companies in the US, such as Google, Microsoft etc have grown their multi-billion wealth through several patents of intangible goods such as computer algorithms and software technology, yet here in Kenya, our IP system seems to be skewed towards innovations of physical systems.

Yet, ironically, we claim to embrace that this is a knowledge economy. It’s no wonder, M-PESA, though invented in Kenya by a Kenyan, is patented elsewhere in the world.

Prof, like any other curriculum, 8.4.4 is anchored on Bloom’s Taxonomy theory of comprehension, analysis, synthesis, and application.

Thus, it’s not by curriculum design that graduates of the system are increasingly unable to apply their knowledge.

It’s courtesy of the nine tragic issues, among others, that the competitiveness of graduates is steadily waning.

This tragedy cannot be optimally fixed by a radical shift to another system of education.

And even in the absence of the nine issues, I contend that CBC will at best produce a skewed economy with good vocational tradesmen and women- people this country indeed needs critically, but with few innovators and system thinkers, that the economy needs in equal measure.

This is because, as I said, the best innovators are first generalists and system thinkers with a broad knowledge across subjects, but also specialised enough to turn an idea into reality.

While 8.4.4 was meant to foster generalist-specialists that are much needed today, CBC is favouring pure specialists whose survival in the modern and future world is and will be limited. Thus, my contention is that when all said and done, CBC is inferior to the 8.4.4 system, all other factors constant.

By Dr. Abiud Mulongo (Ph.D) is a Consultant Computer Systems Engineer.