Education reforms can’t ignore events in rapidly changing world

Wednesday March 18 2020

In January 1972, the University of Nairobi hosted Prof Clark Kerr, then-chairman of Carnegie Council on Higher Education, professor emeritus of economics and industrial relations and president emeritus of the University of California, Berkeley.


In his lecture, “Education and National Development: Reflections from an American Perspective in a Period of Global Reassessment”, he identified education as one of the sources of possible salvation from which many men may choose to solve their challenges. The others are self-determination, new technology and various forms of socialism and communism.

“Regardless of the means of salvation, men have often expected too much and realised too little. The gap between aspiration and attainment has often been substantial, sometimes almost infinite,” Prof Kerr observed.

He then posed: “Is education another god that has failed?”

The gist of his lecture was that education has recurrently let down one generation after another, from country to country, for not solving societal problems and has to be reviewed from time to time to align the curriculum to the contemporary and future needs of its citizens.

Forty-four years later, President Uhuru Kenyatta, in his State of the Nation address on March 31, 2016, presented an interesting observation about the quality of education in Kenya. He quoted from the World Economic Forum’s “Global Competitiveness Report for 2014-2015”: “Compared to 144 countries, the quality of our education system in Kenya is 30th, and first in Africa. We are 32nd in availability of research and training services and first in Africa; and 33rd in the capacity for innovation, and first in Africa. The conclusion is that Kenya is number one in Africa in multiple categories.”


Then why are we changing the curriculum? President Kenyatta, in the same address, provided the answer. He stated: “It is not enough to be number one in Africa. We must become even better educated, more competitive and driven to have the ability to attract the world’s cutting-edge industries and investments in our economy.”

Therefore, CBC has to be a major improvement from 8-4-4, and world-class. This takes us to international perspectives.

Before the end of the last century, Unesco commissioned a study on education for the 21st Century. The report, “Learning: The Treasure Within”, raised pertinent issues that, in the view of the authors, would determine the content of educational curricula.

These are: The ineluctability of the growth of knowledge and information; technological change; demographic changes; countries becoming increasingly interdependent; new social and community concerns; and changes in attitudes to the role of public policy.

George S. Papadopoulos told the commission: “Education policies are pre-eminently national policies. The notion of an international education policy, in the sense used in economics and trade, and even in science, does not yet exist. Yet, fast-moving events across the globe are changing the international scene to an extent that the implications for national educational policies can no longer be ignored.”


On demographic changes, the same author observed that the population of developed countries is reducing or stagnating, leading to shortages of skilled labour. This implies that there is an increasing demand for well-educated and skilled people at the international level.

The goals of the CBC do not explicitly state the need to develop skills for the international labour market.

Papadopoulos wrote: “Learning for the 21st Century must carry a vision of what the society will be and the qualities that men and women should have to help shape it. In this, education must increasingly play a proactive rather than a merely reactive role.”

CBC is a good curriculum. However, we need to infuse through it ideas on global changes that will certainly and continuously affect Kenyans.

Mr Sogomo is a former Secretary of TSC. [email protected]