Kenya’s education system is going through a major transformation that will change the way learners are taught and examined and how they will transit from one level to the other.
The competency-based curriculum — 2-6-3-3-3 — is a drastic shift from the current 8-4-4. It is structured as follows: learners will spend two years in pre-primary, six in primary, three in junior secondary, three in senior secondary and another three in higher learning.
The policy to guide the new curriculum was launched on Wednesday by Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha at the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD). But the curriculum was rolled out last year in the early grades.
While it is not a revolution, the reform is the most far-reaching since 1985, when the 8-4-4 system (eight years in primary school, four in secondary and four in university) replaced the 7-6-3 model that had been in place since 1964.
The 8-4-4 was meant to introduce a heavy bias for technical and vocational subjects in the curriculum, but it was reviewed several times and during which period those courses were progressively knocked out.
The last review in 2003 removed the technical subjects entirely because the curriculum was deemed too heavy and exacting on the learners.
By shedding off the technical courses, the reason the system had been introduced, the objective was lost completely. What remained was just structure, but the content had basically reversed to academic subjects just like its predecessor.
Now, the 8-4-4 is being overhauled and replaced with the 2-6-3-3-3 competency-based curriculum.
According to Dr Julius Jwan, the director of KICD, which is driving the changes, the 8-4-4 system, while being relevant and viable, is slowly being pushed aside by 21st century global needs and priorities.
An education task force chaired by Prof Douglas Odhiambo in 2010 proposed a return to technical subjects and a more flexible learner-centred system, hence provided the genesis for the new plan.
Broadly, 8-4-4 was criticised for being too exam-oriented, teacher-centred, rigid and with limited opportunities to align basic education with children’s own interests, capabilities and aptitudes.
“The system serves those who do well in the traditional subjects such as mathematics, English, humanities and sciences, and who then proceed to higher education and onto white-collar jobs, leaving out thousands with talents in vocational fields, sports and many other non-academic skills,” says Dr Jwan.
The competency-based system, which is now being implemented from preschool up to Grade Three, is meant to resolve the weaknesses of 8-4-4.
Apart from the shift in the structure, the biggest change is the content and teaching methodology — the focus on learners takes cognisance of their differences and abilities, de-emphasises examinations and academic competition and seeks to create an environment where there are no failures because each individual will be graded continuously according to talent rather end of cycle examinations.
The major difference between 8-4-4 and the new system is that unlike the former, the latter offers a wide range of non-academic subjects and puts emphasis on life skills that are taught throughout the school system.
The objective is to identify and nurture individual talents and interests. Says Dr Jwan: “Learners are never the same. We can’t have everyone competing purely on the academic front. 8-4-4 is cognitive driven at the expense of affective skills and psychomotor (physical activities as governed by mental processes).
Some of the life skills include, communication and collaboration, self-efficacy, critical thinking and problem solving, creativity and imagination, citizenship and digital literacy.
These will be taught as part of the usual subjects. Learning is envisaged to be interactive and comprises group work, debates and various creative activities.
However, according to Dr Jwan, transition from primary to secondary and tertiary will be through a formative evaluation, which will carry 70 per cent of the final grade while the remaining 30 per cent will be from a national test administered by the Kenya National Examinations Council.
However, Dr Jwan says this is yet to be concluded and that consultations are going on.