It took the intervention of top national leadership to put the implementation of the new education curriculum back on course, the Nation has learnt.
Pressure from high office and the concerted efforts of education stakeholders compelled Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed to change her tune from earlier in the week and announce that the roll-out will start in 2020, extending the launch date by a year.
The same pressure forced the minister to convene a series of meetings on Friday and Saturday to seek a safe path out of the debacle she had created.
On Saturday, Ms Mohamed met the National Steering Committee on Curriculum Review — the body in charge of advising and guiding the implementation of the proposed curriculum — and the team agreed that even though the programme would not be shelved completely, it had to be delayed by a year.
Speaking to the press after the meeting at the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD), the CS announced that the ministry and the steering committee had settled on 2020 to go full throttle on the new curriculum. The decision was based on the findings of independent evaluators, who had identified several weaknesses in the programme, including lack of funding, poor school infrastructure, and haphazard training of teachers.
The CS read a statement, but declined to take any questions from journalists, and left immediately.
Ms Mohamed threw the country into a panic when she told a Senate committee last week that the new curriculum will be put on hold for a while.
She argued that there had not been adequate preparations to allow its implementation. Effectively, therefore, the country was to continue with the 8-4-4 system for a while.
This sparked outrage from stakeholders, who argued that it was a major let-down to the country since heavy investments had been made in piloting the curriculum in Pre-primary to Grade Three levels.
Backtracking on the new curriculum also meant that those learners would be forced to revert to 8-4-4, and there were concerns whether they would be able to make the mental and skills shift as quickly as required.
Several things had to happen fast to avert a looming disaster in the education sector.
Sources within government told the Nation that Ms Mohamed’s announcement putting off the new curriculum had caused friction within the Cabinet.
Reforming the education sector was one of President Kenyatta’s campaign agenda and stalling the process, for whatever reason, meant back-pedalling on the pledge to Kenyans.
Since taking over the ministry early in the year, Ms Mohamed has only met the National Steering Committee on Curriculum Reforms once. The meeting at the weekend was the second, but this was occasioned by the crisis that had engulfed the education sector following her pronouncement on Tuesday.
Two weeks ago Ms Mohamed declined to attend the Nation Leadership Forum at the University of Nairobi that focused on the new curriculum, even after confirming that she would be present.
Instead, the Cabinet Secretary sent the Principal Secretary, Dr Belio Kipsang, and KICD director Julius Jwan
The two officials confirmed that the government was ready to roll out the curriculum next year.
The wrangling over the new syllabus, however, goes beyond the boardrooms and policy documents to the vested interests of players in the multi-billion-shilling industry.
Investigations by the Nation indicate that some influential people in government have not been convinced that the country should change from 8-4-4 to the proposed 2-6-3-3 system.
And, to complicate the arithmetic, the Education ministry and its various specialised agencies are not pulling in the same direction, their animosity fuelled by various external political pressures.
Interviews with multiple sources show that there is divergence of view in government over the curriculum. And even among those paid to implement it, there is a push-and-pull regarding control of the process.
Also, no budget has been allocated for the review process by the government, and so most of the activities surrounding the roll-out, such as teacher training or conferences, are funded on an ad hoc basis by external donors, among them Unicef.
Units within the Education ministry have been haggling in boardrooms over who ought to champion the curriculum reform process, and in particular take charge of specific components such as teacher training or development of assessment criteria and materials.
KICD is the lead agency spearheading the reform agenda. However, other agencies such as the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) and the Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec), have been uneasy with that arrangement. They view it as encroachment on their territories, especially in regard to teacher training (TSC) and assessments formulation (Knec).
It is because of this wrangling that the piloting of the curriculum has been handled badly.
During the steering committee meeting, an evaluation report indicated several weaknesses observed during the piloting period, including lack of financing, poor coordination by the various government agencies, insufficient school infrastructure, poor preparation of teachers, and overcrowding in classrooms, all of which undermined the learner-centred teaching espoused by the new curriculum.
Arising from this, the national steering committee resolved that the piloting continues until everything is in order, hopefully by the end of next year.
Consequently, Ms Mohamed announced that the ministry will set up a secretariat (National Educational Reform Secretariat) to manage the reforms, focusing on implementation, supervision and evaluation of the new curriculum.
The ministry will also put a request for Sh365 billion to implement the curriculum in the first four years, from pre-primary up to Grade Four.