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Content is vital for education reform

Thursday April 21 2016

Cabinet Secretary for Education Fred Matiang'i shows pupils how to operate a laptop at The Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development on December 15, 2015. PHOTO | GERALD ANDERSON | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Cabinet Secretary for Education Fred Matiang'i shows pupils how to operate a laptop at The Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development on December 15, 2015. PHOTO | GERALD ANDERSON | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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A young first-time mother wants to wean her infant from milk to semi-solid and then to solid foods. Inquiring from her mother or more experienced mothers, she will likely seek knowledge on the types of food to start her baby on. She will then expand her inquiry to the consistency and the preparation of the food.

Once these issues are settled in her mind, she may then turn her attention to the implements for feeding her child — the plates, cups, and spoons best suited to first-time eaters of solid food. The implements, without the right food, are useless.

A farmer would like to grow new crops on his two-acre farm, quite different from the maize, beans, potatoes, and vegetables that his father and grandfather have cultivated for years.

“I know what I shall do!” he declares. “I’ll invest in some new and expensive equipment. That should modernise my farm dramatically.” The farmer should not be surprised that his maize, beans, potatoes, and vegetables are just as unprofitable as his father’s and grandfather’s even though cultivated with the latest devices.

The two concurrent reforms in education — the implementation of the Digital Learning Programme (DigiSchool) and curriculum reform — have the potential to transform the sector, and consequently Kenya’s social and economic development. Sadly, it seems some midwives of the new system of education may be unfamiliar with both the concept of weaning a child and the parable of the farmer.

Let us consider the digital learning initiative first. The conversation has focused entirely on ICT infrastructure and devices. The government has made tremendous progress in achieving most of the goals set in these two areas. This is all very well. However, an empty device is a mere toy, an expensive and impressive one perhaps, but a toy nonetheless.


Content, not devices, is the key driver for education. Therefore, the lack of focus on content is somewhat alarming. While a budget of Sh17 billion has been set aside for ICT infrastructure, devices, and teacher training, there is no budget for procurement of digital content.

Curriculum reform has excellent goals as well. It is geared towards meeting the growing social, technological, and economic needs of a rapidly changing and dynamic world.

The proposed new curriculum will be a relevant one that gives all learners access to the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary for success in the 21st century.

This is an excellent goal. It also seeks to stimulate critical thinking and problem solving. So, what kind of content will challenge the minds of learners, raise their curiosity for knowledge, foster creativity, and encourage authenticity? The input of content developers to the curriculum is vital in determining this.

Publishers’ participation in the curriculum reform process recognises the connection between curriculum and teaching. The link between these two systems can only be established by the provision of a feedback mechanism, in our case the National Steering Committee on Curriculum Reform, where publishers can provide the necessary feedback at the policy level.

The quality and effectiveness of textbooks vary for many reasons including, for example, the clarity of curricular intentions and content details. Creating a new curriculum without the participation of content creators is akin to a mother weaning her child on breast milk serving it in a new cup, or the farmer using the latest technology to sow the same old bean seeds and expecting a beanstalk that magically rises up to the sky.

Young people notice things. They will notice if the foreign books are of better quality than the local ones. What message would we be sending to our children if the local content they are expected to relate to is sub-standard?

One outcome would be that we will raise generations of copycats — citizens who look up to foreign products as superior and seek to adapt rather than innovate. The result? Inauthentic and stilted “creativity” that is a thinly veiled counterfeit of foreign innovation.

If we truly hope to reform our education, we must give serious consideration to content and treat its producers — publishers, writers, and illustrators, as well as the teachers — as indispensable partners.

We must also budget for quality content, just as we have for ICT infrastructure and devices. If it is just bright, new toys for our children that we are after, though, then I suggest that we pick less costly ones.

Mr Waweru is the CEO, WordAlive Publishers. [email protected]