If the government is committed to the provision of quality education, training of its citizens, expansion of access, equity, and empowerment of youth to participate in national development, then the 8-4-4 system must be reformed.
Many superficial attempts at reforming the system have not brought tangible results.
The system is still characterised by massive wastage and cut-throat competition for grades with minimal emphasis on skill acquisition for learners.
We need a system that takes into consideration the present-day realities in the production of skilled graduates to drive the economy.
It is with this in mind that the Ministry of Education appointed a task force to realign the education system to the new Constitution, make the education system responsive to the imperatives of Vision 2030, and to contextualise the system to accommodate the demands of the East African Community.
It was also mandated with examining the emerging issues and “incorporate them in a new education system”.
In appointing the task force, the government was acknowledging that the 8-4-4 system had not achieved its objectives.
It is in the same spirit that the government organised the National Conference on Education Reforms in Nairobi from March 27 to March 29.
But listening to the propositions and arguments of teachers, trade unions and other stakeholders, it was very clear that intransigent forces are hell-bent on blocking education reforms.
It was particularly disturbing to hear opposition to the recommendations of the task force from people who seem not to have read the report.
It was expected that the conference would present a systematic scholarly interrogation of the report point by point, but much of what came out were generalised comments.
The main objective of the conference was to validate the findings of the report. Simply put, the conference was to answer the question:
Are the recommendations of the task force founded on honest assessment of the weaknesses of the present system?
This question was not followed closely. Instead, a good number of the speakers simply echoed what has been said about the proposals based on three flawed positions — egoistic misreading, vested interests and ignorance.
It was particularly disturbing for one respected contributor to this paper to insinuate that because his old teachers at university were not consulted, then all the task force’s proposals were flawed!
Does it mean that those who taught us in the 1970s and 1980s hold the key to everything in education?
But perhaps the most vocal in opposing the proposals were trade unions, and I don’t blame them. Trade unions are not professional bodies.
By their very nature they will advocate for positions that bring immediate comfort to their members without projecting far enough and without truly engaging the issues with fidelity.
Our trade unions are populist, hence their approaches are rich in sensation but limited in logic.
One of the issues discussed was that of structure of the education system. The unions were vehemently opposed to the proposed 2-6-6-3 system.
Their argument is that 8-4-4 system should not be scrapped. I wonder how we can mainstream Early Childhood Development Education into the system without changing its structure!
Those opposed to the proposed system may not be quite honest in assessing the damage caused by 8-4-4.
Who in this country does not know that this system has in-built barriers at every stage that make it difficult to attain a 100 per cent transition rate from primary to secondary schools, which leads to wastage of thousands of children who would have benefited from secondary education?
The proposed structure makes the transition automatic, based on core competencies.
The task force also noted lack of early identification and nurturing of pupils as one of the weaknesses of the 8-4-4 system and recommended that the new system should allow specialisation at the end of junior secondary school.
Think about it. Why should we impose, say, Christian Religious Education on a student who is aiming to become a neurosurgeon?
In the same breath, why should we make mathematics mandatory for students aiming at becoming theatre artistes?
Prof Kabaji is the director of Public Communication and Publishing at Masinde Muliro University. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the university. (email@example.com)