This week could mark the beginning of the end of the 8-4-4 system of education when experts meet in Nairobi to discuss a proposed new curriculum.
The more than 500 delegates, including local and international experts on curriculum development, are on Wednesday expected to receive a proposal from the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD), which has been carrying out an assessment on the education system since last year.
Deputy President William Ruto is expected to open the conference.
While meeting education journalists in Nairobi recently, the sector's Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i and his Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang hinted at a possible overhaul of the 8-4-4 system.
“We are reaching out far and wide. We are going to have probably the most consultative review of our education curriculum ever since independence. We believe good policies have to be developed through a consultative process and it is also an opportunity for us to invite and sustain the participation of everyone of us in development of the education system of our country,” Dr Matiang’i said.
Dr Kipsang said the country is preparing a platform for its future generations, preparing the knowledge that it would like to impart on its people going forward.
“Curriculum is not an education function, education is a mover of the process but curriculum is bigger than education as it is for all of us,” he said.
The Sunday Nation has learned that one of the options the conference is likely be presented with is from a 2012 report of a taskforce chaired by Prof Douglas Odhiambo, which proposed the scrapping of the 8-4-4 system of education.
Instead, it recommended a 2-6-3-3-3 system, which it says would ensure learners acquire competences and skills to meet the human resource aspirations of Vision 2030 blue.
The system offers a choice of subject pathways at the end of the elementary school phase; ensure the attainment of 100 per cent transition rate from primary to secondary school, thereby reducing wastage by introducing automatic progression to the junior secondary phase based on the acquisition of core skills and competences (literacy, numeracy and communication skills).
Prof Odhiambo’s team recommended two years of pre-primary, six years of primary (three years lower and three years upper primary), six years secondary (three years junior and three years senior), two years minimum of middle level colleges and three years minimum university education.
The structure was to have two cycles: Basic Education cycle of 14 years which was supposed to be free and compulsory, and a Higher Education cycle.
The rollout plan for the proposed curriculum structure will be done in phases where if, for example, it is endorsed and implementation starts next year the last Kenya Certificate of Primary Education candidates will be examined in 2018 and the last Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examinations candidates will sit in 2021.
Implementation could start in Standard One and Standard Four next year while Standard Five, Six and Seven are prepared for junior secondary in 2018.
The first class would sit the junior secondary examination in 2020.
The structure will also focus on early identification and nurturing of talent in learners at the end of the junior secondary phase.
It allows specialisation at the end of junior secondary; introduce a system of Competence Assessment Tests (CATs) measuring knowledge, skills and competences, the results of which will be cumulative and form part of a formative assessment process, the credits from which will be accumulated in the summative assessment at the end of each phase.
This is distinct from the current situation where students either pass or fail and exit the system.
The taskforce had also recommended that the Kenya National Examinations Council be renamed the Kenya Educational Assessment Council (KEAC) and strengthened to address all matters related to management and administration of assessments.
CATs by teachers are to be supported with a national framework, guidelines or test-bank by KEAC to be made available online on a regular basis.
This will make the CATs standard and de-emphasise the many private examination papers being sold all over the country.
Some of the gaps that have been pointed out in the 8-4-4 system include its incompatibility with other states in the East African Community, that there are no flexible pathways for career progression, and that technical and vocational skills are geared towards coming up with a skilled workforce.
Another criticism has been the lack of structures to nurture talent.
Learners are also put under undue pressure to perform well in academics and study for a few careers available at the university with those who fail to get good grades labelled failures.
Kenya effected the last curriculum reform in 1985, when it shifted from the 7-4-2-3 system to the 8-4-4 system to provide a curriculum that would help learners to gain practical skills and competences to enable them to become self-reliant.
The curriculum was reformed from one that geared the learners towards white collar jobs, to a more practical oriented one.
In his recent meeting with journalists, Dr Matiang’i observed that the country was supposed to review the curriculum every 10 years and constantly make reviews.
He said the journey of reviewing the curriculum had received fresh momentum.
“It’s time to engage all stakeholders. Review of the education curriculum cannot be a matter of the ministry of Education alone, it is a responsibility we share as citizens because it’s important that we have an education system that can prepare our children for the challenges and expectations of the 21st century which they are going to live, work and operate,” said Dr Matiang’i.
The proposed curriculum could introduce a shorter primary cycle and a longer secondary school cycle and shift from a subject-based system to a competence-based curriculum.
This will provide the opportunity to set standards against which learners will be assessed taking into consideration the individual interests, abilities and talents.
The current system has a long period of eight years for foundational skills and a short period of four years for secondary school which is not sufficient for acquiring intended skills, according to previous expert assessments.
Studies on global best practices show that at the primary school level, learners require shorter periods to acquire foundational skills.
Uwezo Kenya Country Coordinator John Mugo said the current curriculum “promotes and glorifies mastery (cramming) of contents at the expense of everything else”.
“Our Kenyan graduates lack skills and competence for work. The focus on content has led to systematic disregard for skills and attitudes,” Dr Mugo said.
Apart from the radical changes in 1985, an evaluation of the curriculum in 1995 revealed that it had a heavy workload across the various subjects in primary and secondary education.
Based on the report on Total Integration of Quality Education and Training of 1999, a needs assessment was undertaken.
The findings of the study indicated that the subjects at primary level were too many, the content in each subject for primary and secondary was too much, and there was also repetition of content in various subjects.
The national curriculum for primary and secondary education was reviewed in 2002 to remove the overloads and unnecessary overlaps within and across subjects, and to mainstream emerging issues.
In 2009, a summative evaluation of the primary and secondary education was carried out.
The results indicated that most of the learners exiting the education system at secondary level did not have adequate skills and competences to join the job market.