The pain and joy of new education curriculum

Saturday June 29 2019

A woman and a child doing homework. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH


It started as a moan from one parent in a corner of the country, then another. Now, more have joined in.

They have all been complaining about the roller-coaster ride that is homework under the competency-based curriculum that was rolled out this year.

It is not homework as usual. On one day, they are required to take photos of their children brushing teeth. They are then expected to print the photos and send them to their children’s teachers.

On another day, they are asked to help their children convert a stick into a paintbrush by chewing it.


In some instances, the parents will be needed to take images of their children making their beds, visiting a marketplace, or such.


“It makes me feel like I’m teaching my son and that there is no need of him going to class,” says Maryanne Njihia, a Nairobi resident with a son in Pre-Primary 2.

Lifestyle asked Ms Njihia of the toughest assignment she has had to handle.

“We were supposed to cut out an old sweater and make a plant out of it. How now?” she wondered. “In another instance, we were to plant some seeds and they were to germinate in three days.”

On the social media, the parents’ reactions to the new homework order have been flying in each day.

“Some parents didn’t even have the opportunity to step into a classroom (not their fault) but here are very technical assignments for them,” Phelix posted on May 27.


And on May 31 David posted: “This new curriculum is not for poor people. Grade One assignments and homework are like: ‘Search on your tablet’s internet’, ‘plant in your garden’, ‘drive daddy’s car’ and such! Poor people, the vicious cycle of poverty continues!”

“How can a mother in ushago (the countryside), take a video of a child singing and send it to the teacher? Will this government give every Kenyan a smartphone?” posed Joy on May 31.

Whereas Kamau lamented on June 21: “How am I supposed, in this age and time, to make an A4 paper boat? YouTube tutorials didn’t help, Nada. How am I meant to look for twigs, know the right one that will not poison me, and chew the damn thing to make a paint brush?”

And on June 25, former journalist James Momanyi wrote about an assignment given to his daughter in Pre-Primary 2 where parents had been asked to take photos of their children brushing teeth.


“A parent is supposed to take the photo, print and give her to take to school! Instead of investing in boda boda, young people should now invest in printers and photocopiers,” observed Mr Momanyi.

The parents’ concerns, according to former teacher John Mburu, are because most of them do not know the switch that came with the new system of learning.

“In a sense, the parent is now the teacher, and the teacher is a facilitator,” said Mr Mburu, who sells learning materials for the competency-based curriculum (CBC), trading as Orion Interactive Solutions.

“There is much the parents are supposed to do but they lack the knowledge. You know, parents are yet to be enlightened. So, they still have a problem; they don’t know what to do,” added Mr Mburu.

Lifestyle spoke to three lower primary school teachers to have a feel of how parents are responding to the demands of the new curriculum.

Because they did not seek authorisation to speak on policy issues, we will only identify them by their first names.


Madgalene teaches at a school in the depths of Kakamega County. She described the school’s location as “very remote”.

Her bone to pick with parents is that they have been reluctant to obey commands given to their learners.

She recalls a day when she wanted to show pupils how to wash utensils. The task required the pupils to come with some utensils for demonstration. To her frustration, very few heeded the call.

“You just remain alone; like the parents are not embracing the new curriculum,” said Magdalene, who has been a primary school teacher for a decade.

She added: “Parents need mobilisation. For example, when handling a topic on soil, there is a time we are supposed to model, but when you tell the children to go home and bring the soil for modelling, they return without it. And so you remain hanging and wondering how you are going to teach while the parents are not supporting you through their children.”


Sarah is a lower primary school teacher in Kisii County. She has been teaching for the past 25 years. One problem that has arisen with the new curriculum, she observed, involves illiterate parents.

“The challenge is that those few who are illiterate sulk at being given work to write at home. But those who are learned can help their children to do the homework. But generally, they are not opposed to the idea. They view it as something that can help their children,” she said.

Jackline teaches in Vihiga County, and has been in the profession for the past 10 years.

Her observation is that some parents need adjusting.

“A few have not come to terms with the new curriculum. They’re still causing problems and do not understand that there are more learning areas. So, they need at least to be sensitised,” she said.


She added: “This time round, it’s more of practical lessons than theory ones. And in most cases, the work we give the children is more interactive; not so much on writing. Some parents don’t understand it. We send the children to go ask their parents a question but sometimes the parents don’t take it seriously. We give children a home activity but you find that their parents don’t understand it.”

The competency-based curriculum was rolled out throughout Kenya this year after a prolonged period of pushing and pulling. It was officially launched by Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha in May.

All learners currently in Pre-Primary 1 and 2 and in Grades 1 to 3 — whether in private or public schools — are learning through this curriculum that is designed to impart practical skills and to nurture a learner’s talents.

Despite reservations from some parents, all the teachers we interviewed were in agreement that the curriculum is better than the 8-4-4 one that is being phased out.

Magdalene said: “I think this curriculum is the best, because children with learning disabilities will be identified early and we will know where they will go.”


She, however, said the government has not provided enough books to ensure smooth learning.

Sarah observed: “I’ll tell parents that this is a good curriculum. They should join hands with their children and teachers to implement it. It is a good thing.”

Jackline noted: “When they (parents) come to school, we try to sensitise them. We would have liked to sensitise them more and more through other media so that they come to terms with the new curriculum; the changes that are there so that the misunderstanding is eliminated.”

She added that the government needs to work on improving the number of teachers because the new learning system is labour intensive.

“If possible, the government should reduce the number of learning areas that a teacher has to teach so that they don’t have a big class and the whole of those lessons to teach.”

The various changes have brought optimism among many, but what critics point out is the way it assumes that parents have equal abilities to afford such things as printing, photography device and the internet.


Some observers have dubbed it a “curriculum for the rich”, a term the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development director Julius Jwan rebuffed recently when he said that most assignments require locally available materials.

“I gather that privately-run schools like to do things differently, but no parent in a public school should be subjected to buying any extra materials,” Dr Jwan told the Business Daily in May.

Mr Mburu, who sells materials for facilitation of the new curriculum, said a teacher should give assignments based on where the school is.

“Take an example of homework where the learner is told to go and count the matchsticks at home. The person who should teach that child is the parent — to buy a matchbox and count the sticks,” he said.

“There are those who are told to count the number of cows in the village. That will be tough for those in towns. That is why I’m saying that all those things depend on the school the learner is in,” added Mr Mburu.


As it emerges from the various observations made, not all parents are at odds with the curriculum.

Ms Njihia, who has had some challenging tasks with her son in Pre-Primary 2, reckons that there is an aspect of bonding that comes with the new system.

“In the previous curriculum, the parent was less involved in the child’s life and more so on academic matters. The CBC has created a platform for parent-child bonding. At least we will not be strangers to each other even in the future,” said Ms Njihia, a psychologist.

Lifestyle sampled a few assignments issued to children and their parents — as posted on social media platforms.

In one holiday assignment, children were required to make a kitchen garden and plant either onions, carrots, parsley, sukuma wiki or beetroot.

The instructions were: “Take photos to track the progress and bring the photos to school.” There were further instructions to draw and colour the shapes of the containers and tools used to make the garden.

On another assignment for a midterm break, children were asked to download and print patterns from the internet.


“Print and bring the copies at school after the midterm break,” the instructions read.

As expected, humour has been colouring some parents’ reactions to the new roles they have under the new curriculum.

“Unamaliza shule unaaza uzazi ukijua no more books kumbe you will restudy as many times as the number of children you have,” joked Lydia on a recent Facebook comment on how parents have to assist their children with homework long after they thought they were done with studying.

“Halafu tena fees tulipe tu in full? (Should we still pay the full school fees?)” posed Vee in another Facebook discussion.


Kamau recently wrote: “You [teachers] will not expose me to my tois in the pretext of this new curriculum. Wacha abaki akijua I was always number 1 (Let him know I was always number one).”

Then there was this observation by Philip: “Siku hizi lazima utafute (nowadays you have to look for) constellations za sky then draw them; then the teacher says you are wrong … na cloud shapes. I need a loaded gun.”

Niliambiwa niunde hut, two different types of balls, propeller na shaker. Weekend iliisha hivo,” wrote Bernard, about how his weekend was ruined by his child’s assignments about making a hut, two balls, a propeller and a shaker.