The Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) started a pilot in May this year for a 2-6-3-3-3 system of education to replace the 8-4-4 system currently in use.
It is hoped that the new system will address the issue of examination-based education, which had turned into a cheating monster, denying Kenya children comprehensive enjoyment and access to knowledge, while turning them into little cramming robots.
The proposed system is supposed to be heavy on continuous assessments and holistic development of children, while letting ‘kids be kids’.
As much as the credit for actual implementation goes to Dr Matiang'i, the idea to introduce a new system of education was first floated by Prof Douglas Odhiambo.
He led an education review task force whose report was published in 2012 by the Ministry of Education, which was then led by Professor Sam Ongeri as Minister and Professor Ole Kiyiapi as Permanent Secretary, both seasoned educationists.
It is expected that they, on behalf of Kenya, were well placed to assess the report and adopt only the useful parts expected to transform the education sector.
One of the most important changes in the proposed system is the inclusion of Early childhood Education (ECD), which the 8-4-4 system seemingly ignored at the formal level. Children will be required to spend two years in ECD and start schooling at the age of 4, as opposed to the current system where formal learning is consider to start at the age of six in Standard One.
At this level, the system proposes to start leaners off early on social skills, national values, interpersonal communication and appreciation of our similarities and differences. Children will be expected to learn in their local languages an obvious advantage that cannot be overemphasised.
At six years in primary school, learners start to acquire competencies and skills that will create a labour force with which Kenya will meet its aspirations, i.e., Vision 2030.
This blueprint for Kenya’s development was launched in 2008. The three pillars at the time, economic, social and political governance were laden with strategies aimed at transforming Kenya into an industrialising middle income country by 2030.
Three years in upper primary are supposed to be dedicated to experimentation and exploration, which would include learning to communicate using nonverbal methods.
At lower secondary, learners will be allowed to choose subjects that point towards their careers of choice, including subjects of study at university level and other tertiary institutions. At this point they will also learn two ‘common courses’ regardless of subject choices that will include entrepreneurship, citizenship, and physical education. This all sounds very well thought out and coordinated through various sectors of government.
Kenyans have, however, not heard of any changes in the structure of university education to accommodate the newbies who will first get to the university in 2022 or thereabouts.
What Kenyans are hearing from the Higher Education department is the current international buzzword of increase in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
This is a suggestion that more learners should be encouraged to study those subjects. If we are encouraging our children to find knowledge in their school days, how is it then that at university level we are stressing STEM?
Shouldn’t we be building a holistic system that is at the same time reviewing the humanities to give better support to the students who will be products of a much better-sounding system, at least on paper?
What about our technical schools? Are they being revived or reinvented?
Whereas this system was first proposed in 2012, Kenyans have not heard of similar proposals to restructure teacher training colleges, and Kenyatta University to be able to support this system in the future.
Even if the system is at pilot testing phase to establish its viability, it is unlikely to be discarded given the time and resources already spent on it, coupled with the fact that the 8-4-4 system has been taunted as having too many shortcomings.
At what point will upgrading of teaching skills across the board be considered?
The education system below university is also heavily laden with syllabus-based books, instead of subject and age based books. At what point will books be structured to support the new system?
I am hoping that literature, even at basic learning, will start to absorb the growing list of Kenya authors catering to young readers. It is also my hope that titles such as ‘Mathematics for Standard Two’ will vanish from bookshops as a maths book will be structured for a certain age group and can be used for a number of years.
This will also lessen the textbook burden on parents and reduce the implementation challenges of the system.
It is also my hope that even if the system has borrowed from elsewhere (given that there's no point reinventing the wheel), it will borrow from Kenyans indigenous knowledge systems.
It's about time we bred home-based solutions to some of our challenges.
A change in the education system requires changes in all related sectors that add value to education. They too should be preparing for the change. Let us not set up good ideas to fail!