The launch of the competency-based curriculum (CBC) has elicited a national debate, which, while healthy, threatens to obscure important issues. The new system, which will replace 8-4-4, is being rolled out from nursery school up to Grade Three. Last week, Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha launched the policy framework for the curriculum, clearing the decks for reforms in the sector.
Broadly, the CBC is learner-centred, places a high premium on individual talents and interests and removes obsession with summative national examinations, which have come to define the current system. It seeks to create an environment where there are no failures because learners will be graded continuously according to their talents rather than pure performance in examinations.
The 8-4-4 has been criticised for being too exam-oriented, teacher-centred, rigid and with limited opportunities to align basic education with learners’ interests, capabilities and aptitudes.
Obviously, the new system is a huge improvement on the 8-4-4 but the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) is not convinced, arguing that the changes have been rushed without the necessary training and infrastructure. It has vowed to ignore the CBC and continue with the old system — a rather curious position because records indicate that the union has been involved in various meetings on the changes, including the national conference on education reforms in 2016.
Knut has a right to speak out on any issue that it feels affects its members. However, it is difficult to appreciate such a hardline position at a time when the curriculum has already been rolled out. The back and forth between the ministry and the union is not helping the public but only breeding confusion and bewilderment. It is instructive that the union has raised fundamental issues, which cannot be wished away. Questions about public participation, quality of teacher training and legal framework are critical.
The Education ministry should convene a meeting with the union not only because the teachers are the principal change agents but also to inspire public confidence in the system. Moreover, the ministry should revitalise the national steering committee to guide implementation of the curriculum.
The ministry, through the Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec), should clarify the conduct of exams and transition to secondary school and higher levels in the new system. In addition, it must address the massive teacher shortage in schools.
Prof Magoha and Mr Wilson Sossion of Knut must show their diplomatic skills and leadership credentials by approaching the dispute soberly, lest attention seekers hijack the debate and kill an otherwise progressive education system in its infancy.