Rush to roll out new education system is fraught with perils

Wednesday December 13 2017

Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i

Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i with a pupil at Central Girls Primary School at Tononoka, Mombasa County during a tour to find out progress on piloting of the proposed new school curriculum. PHOTO | WACHIRA MWANGI| NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Since the rollout of the 8-4-4 system of education more than 30 years ago, there has been a conflict between those for a systematic review of the curriculum to make it more relevant to the learners’ needs, and those who wanted it replaced.

Though many have excelled through the system, its opponents continue to make reckless, unfounded and misplaced statements about it.

A curriculum must be reviewed to meet the changing needs of learners and society. But the bid to replace the 8-4-4 system is in bad faith.

The factors that contributed to failure to effectively implement and manage 8-4-4 system, included inadequate funding, poor teacher preparation, teacher shortage, lack of adequate teaching and learning materials and insufficient study time. Things were made worse by poor inspection.


Currently, the shortage of teachers is 100,000, which undermines quality teaching and learning. I concur with Prof Paul Ogula, of Catholic University of Eastern Africa, that reforms in education are inevitable.

The 8-4-4 system was piloted from 1982 to 1984 and implemented in 1985. It was monitored and evaluated by internal and external evaluators before adoption.

Formative evaluation of the secondary school curriculum was carried between 1986 and 1989. It was not an overnight business.

Prof Ogula, a specialist in curriculum development, who was among the experts that developed and evaluated the curriculum, says adjustments were made.

What the Ministry of Education and the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development are doing is wrong. Reforms should not be tied on any political agenda. In the curriculum reforms, there was no proper needs assessment – that is to establish “what is” and “what should be”.


Unicef is behind the changes we are witnessing after funding East African Community member states to engineer a competency-based curriculum. Internationally accepted procedures were not followed to the letter.

The 2014 Sessional Paper, which should have been used as the guide to implement reforms, was not based on views from the public.

The competency-based curriculum has failed in Tanzania and other countries. We fail to understand why Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i and his bureaucrats are insisting on its implementation.

The system being used to reform the curriculum is not within the law. The government should constitute a commission comprising stakeholders, including teachers, parents and guardians.


The curriculum as defined by the Ministry of Education and donors is a disaster waiting to happen. The idea of making learners competent in given professions at the basic education level doesn’t arise. Kenya needs to borrow a leaf from Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Malaysia and Finland on curriculum reforms.

You cannot pilot a curriculum in three months that takes a year to cover. International norms require that a curriculum is piloted full cycle to allow adequate evaluation.

The new system is about to implemented yet there is no syllabus, textbooks and other teaching/learning materials.

The government should let the public conceptualise the policy and seek consensus through stakeholders and carry out a proper analysis of the policy.


The road map to the new curriculum, therefore should be planning – what will happen, when, where to get funds, work on design, develop syllabus and teaching/learning aids, revise the materials, carry out a full cycle of piloting, summative evaluation and implementation. Teachers must go through in-service training before the new curriculum is rolled out.

We also need examinations at appropriate intervals such as Standard Eight and Form Four to keep learners on track, and refresh what they have learnt over the years. The proposed continuous assessment tests (CATS) are a recipe for chaos and failure.

 Mr Sossion is Knut secretary-general and a Nominated MP