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Experts meet to determine fate of bold school reforms

Wednesday January 3 2018

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Will there, or will there not, be a new education curriculum? That was the question on the minds of Kenyans last evening as education experts prepared to meet Wednesday at a special conference to determine, among other things, the Ministry of Education’s preparedness to roll out ambitious reforms in the sector.

There were indications Tuesday that the launch of the new curriculum could be pushed forward to next year to allow for, among others, training of all teachers and printing of teaching materials.

Stakeholders in the education sector have previously pointed out major gaps that need to be closed before the new curriculum is implemented. Among them are lack of training materials to guide the curriculum, failure to involve all stakeholders, and failure to train teachers.

Wednesday's National Steering Committee on Curriculum Reforms meeting, therefore, comes amidst confusion in the education sector as to whether to stick to the old curriculum or wait for direction on the new syllabus.


And, as schools re-opened Tuesday after a two-month break, parents and teachers were conflicted on what materials to buy and what to prepare for classwork.


At various bookshops in the country, parents queued to buy textbooks and other learning materials for the current curriculum, but said they feared a new directive from the ministry could force them back to the shops in a matter of days, if not hours.

Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i will chair this morning’s conference, which will also be attended by officials from the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) and Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut).

The 36-member National Steering Committee on Curriculum Reforms was launched last year by Dr Matiang’i to oversee and guide reforms in the sector, and yesterday KICD director Julius Jwan told Nation that the institution will present a report on the new, competency-based curriculum today before the team reaches a final decision on its implementation.


“We presented the report on our preparedness on the implementation of the curriculum to the Ministry of Education,” said Dr Jwan, “and we shall be presenting the same report during the meeting.”

The planned roll-out of the new syllabus has been largely clouded in uncertainty since the last quarter of 2017, even though the Ministry of Education has spent a fortune readying its officers to oversee the transition. More than 170,000 teachers were scheduled to be trained last month in readiness for the launch this term. Those targeted for the training were teachers handling pupils from nursery school to Standard Three.

The proposed system will replace the current 8-4-4 curriculum, introduced in schools in 1985. The current system, whose fate could be sealed today, is based on eight years of primary school, four years of secondary school, and four years of university.

The new system, according to KICD, places more emphasis on continuous assessment tests (CATs) over one-off examinations.


Every teacher is required to keep a record of each pupil’s performance and skills as these will be used in the entire education lifetime — from lower primary level through secondary school and university — to determine the learner’s key competencies.

It is expected to be rolled out in nursery school up to Standard Three this year, Standard Four to Six in 2019, Standard Seven, Eight and Form One in 2020. In 2021, the system will be extended to Form Two only, in the following year it will cover Form Three, and in 2023 it will be rolled out in Form Four.

The last time Kenyan students are expected to sit the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education Examination (KCSE), according to KICD, is in 2025 through a careful phasing-out programme, after which the new system takes over completely. Instead of the current Standard One to Form Four, the new system will have Grade 1 to 12.

The Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development says the syllabus was developed by a team of experts that relied on a needs assessment study conducted countrywide.


The study on early childhood development, primary and secondary education, and special needs education was undertaken in January 2016, and the findings were disseminated on March 30 the same year.

The proposed Basic Education Curriculum Framework was presented to stakeholders for adoption on January 30 last year, and this formed the basis of the new curriculum design.

Soon after, the KICD Course Panel and Academic Committee approved the Pre-Primary 1 and 2, Grade 1, 2 and 3 that was used for the pilot presided over by Dr Matiang’i on April 21 last year.

Dr Jwan has previously said that the proposed curriculum is ambitious, futuristic and in tune with global trends. Many countries, he says, have adopted such a competency-based, learner-focussed approach as academics move to make education more competitive globally.

But Tuesday, Knut secretary-general Wilson Sossion said, whether good or needing some fine-tuning, the new curriculum should be postponed as teachers are hardly prepared to implement it.


“We will attend the meeting (Wednesday) and our message to the national steering committee will be: ‘Let’s push the timelines,’” he said. “We need to engage each other more and come up with a good curriculum that will benefit our children.”

Mr Sossion also cited failure by the Ministry of Education and KICD to involve stakeholders and the public before the decision was made as one a deterrent. Booksellers across the country have complained that they were never informed in time and are making huge losses due to dead stock.

The Knut secretary-general on Sunday told the Nation that “the period of piloting was too short”. His concerns, and those of hundreds of thousands of parents and their children in the country, will be the focus in today’s special conference.