Rethinking education reforms in Kenya

Kelvin Nyamache The development of a nation hinges in its entirety on the knowledge, skills and attitudes spelled out in the curriculum of its education system which is imparted to its citizenry through its institutions of learning as the agencies of curriculum implementation. Reforms in Kenya's education system have largely been driven by government initiatives through commissions such as the Ominde Commission (1964), Gachathi Report (1976), Mackay Report (1981) and Kamunge Report (1999) as responsive approaches to emerging issues in education. Kenya is currently in the process of implementing its curriculum in the proposed new system of education commonly referred to as the CBC (Competency-Based Curriculum).

While research leading to the discovery of new knowledge, emerging trends in pedagogy and the needs of society inform such reforms, some of the reforms in the past have been undertaken following political pronouncements and the euphoria that rises as an aftermath. This partly explains why such reforms are ephemeral because they are anchored on global policies and trends.

Time and again, the intelligentsia have argued, and perhaps rightly so, that Africa’s development should be premised on ‘homegrown’ approaches and solutions. However, this should not negate the fact that Africa occupies space in the global arena in which some approaches to issues are universal and, therefore, not uniquely African. An education system in Africa operates within a system of knowledge systems that draws its guidelines from universal principles. Therefore, this calls for the hybridization of approaches to enrich any single system.

Since Kenya has been modeling its education system along with other relatively effective systems, one wonders why Kenya decries its systems soon after implementation. Advancements in science and technology have made knowledge in any area of specialization fairly universal and relatively invariable to the extent that we should not be-mourn our education systems even in their infancy if the design process is well thought out and aligned to international standards and models. Much as we all know that curriculum review should be undertaken periodically, sufficient time is required to evaluate whether or not the system has actualized the desired outcomes.

The realization of the objectives of an education system solely depends on the commitment of the government towards full implementation of the proposed policies, approaches, funding of the required resources and training of the curriculum teachers and other implementing agencies. Whether such training or retooling has been fully, adequately and conclusively undertaken leaves a lot to be desired. Perhaps the new curriculum is not so significantly different from the existing one as to require rebaptism of the teachers.

 Furthermore, overhauling education systems in short spans does not accord the nation adequate time to effectively monitor and measure with accuracy the degree of success or failure before recommending reform by studying the behavioral characteristics of the graduates of the system as they apply their competency to real-life experiences. The fact that so many intervening variables may interfere with the full realization of the objectives of the curriculum and that observable change in behavior may not be obviously perceptible should also be borne in mind. Whether or not governments undertake tracer studies periodically for their graduates to determine levels of success in the application of competencies is not clear because such a role is assumed to be the responsibility of training institutions such as universities.

Haphazard and hurried implementation of any process may require patching after a short while. A well-thought-out design requires internal revision or review from time to which are necessary without discarding the entire structural framework which should form the core of the system  While significant efforts have been made to build the capacity of learning institutions at the Ministry of Education’s Basic Education level to embrace the new curriculum,  little is known about the level of preparedness in institutions of higher learning and, in particular, universities, which fall under the State Department of Higher Education in the same Ministry.

Even the planning and implementation of the system at the Basic Education level has had its share of uncertainties and confusion regarding the management and implementation of the curriculum at various levels of the proposed education ladder and learning institutions at which the learners will be managed. Such concerns as to whether Junior Secondary Schools shall be domiciled in Primary School or High School and whether or not boarding schools will be in existence, however mundane, are part and parcel of the planning process that inform parents and guardians in their decision-making processes. Such discordant views are reminiscent of the Biblical Tower of Babel which seeks to account for societal multilingualism and the consequent confusion that arises from the use of many tongues.

One may cut one’s best material for a suit but the tailor can mismanage the process of tailoring and completely tamper with the aesthetic texture of the suit.  The Government as the tailor must therefore effectively play the role of an expert tailor.

The education review program may have been premised on noble intentions and outcomes as they appear but the methodology driving its implementation begs questions that remain unresolved hitherto, yet the learners have already been exposed to the program.

While we may blame the political class and governments for the cacophonous decisions about the same as issued from time to time by the officers responsible for curriculum implementation, the academia cannot be left to go scot-free in this matter because they are uncharacteristically silent on the matter, yet they should be at the forefront of creating and disseminating knowledge. Abdication of this primary responsibility portrays the academia as a class that has resigned to fate and in this lies the danger of placing the nation in the hands of drivers who may not have all it takes to overhaul the curriculum. For instance, the recent proposal by the Ministry of Education to scrap the Bachelor of Education program in university curricula was almost adopted were it not that university Schools of Education vehemently resisted the move perhaps because it has far-reaching implications, including loss of jobs for those teaching students of Bachelor of Education. The question then here remains; who should drive the agenda of curriculum review, the Teachers Service Commission or the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development or the universities or the Commission for University Education, or an assortment of some or all these?

If universities are protesting such a move, there is irrefutable evidence that these government agencies do not consult one another on such critical matters of curriculum review.

With regard to funding of the proposed curriculum, it is also hoped that the Government will show the same concern it has demonstrated at the Basic Education level if and when universities request more capitation for infrastructural expansion in tandem with its demands in preparation to embrace the proposed curriculum without let or hindrance. Only then can we claim to have midwifed the process of implementing the said curriculum fully, adequately and effectively.

What remains unknown to Kenyans is whether or not the Government, for example, funded the construction of the classrooms dubbed “CBC classes” in all public schools and whether the funds were released in full and at the same time or whether some schools are yet to receive these funds. Such disparities which negatively impact the actualization of the objects of curriculum implementation should be minimized for us to draw conclusions as to the system’s effectiveness. Without uniformity in learning and teaching conditions, we shall soon think of reviewing the CBC system, yet the culprit is the government and its implementing agencies.

Kelvin Nyamache is the African Union Youth Assembly Steering Committee Chair and the African Regional Director of the World Youth Summit. He is a teacher, writer, motivational speaker and counseling psychologist. He can be reached on +254798889510

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The Platform for Law, Justice & Society is published by Gitobu Imanyara & Co every month principally to offer a platform for informed and critical discussion of the National Values and Principles set out in Articles 10 (2) of the Constitution of Kenya.

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