By Moses Wasamu for The Messenger
Joshua is a ten-year old boy. He has to wake up at 5:30 a.m. so he can be in school by 7 a.m. He comes back home at 5 p.m. Lately, his class teacher wants him to go to school on Saturdays for extra classes. His parents do not agree. They argue that the schedule does not allow time for the boy to play and socialize at home.
“We chose not to let him go to school over the weekends. We felt it was too much for him,” the parents told me when I spoke with them.
With the introduction of a new education curriculum, many parents hope that the burden of heavy schoolwork on their children will be eased, allowing them to start living a normal child’s life. The current education system in Kenya has been criticized for being heavily loaded with content and too examinations-oriented, which puts undue pressure on learners.
The new system, 2-6-3-3-3, will replace the 8-4-4 system where students spend eight years in primary school, four years in secondary school and another four years in university. It places emphasis on continuous assessment tests (CATs) over one-off examinations at the end of a period of learning. It will be rolled out in January next year. To make this possible, teachers will have to be retrained on the new system’s content, instruction methods and assessments.
The proposal to scrap the 8-4-4 system was first contained in a 2012 report by a task force chaired by Prof Douglas Odhiambo. The task force’s report recommended a 2-6-3-3-3 system aimed at “ensuring learners acquire competencies and skills to meet the human resource aspirations of the Vision 2030 blueprint.”
In the new system, students will spend two years in pre-primary and three years in lower primary. The middle school level of education will comprise three years of upper primary and three years of junior secondary education.
A framework developed by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) states that the rationale for the new system is that it will better prepare the nation’s young people for the 21st century job market, something it says the current system is failing to do.
The KICD says the new curriculum will focus on competencies instead of rote learning, and it will be flexible and offer opportunities to the learners for specialization, among other envisaged changes.
According to Norbert Otieno, a teacher, the current system is too exam-oriented. “It has a lot of wastage, training people in one thing and end up doing entirely different things,” he says. “The 8-4-4 is too much academic oriented. It doesn’t exploit the full potential of a child.”
One of the implications of the new system is that schools will have to be re-categorised from the current national, county and extra-county to academic, vocational, sports and music and talents schools. These changes may require new facilities, infrastructure, materials and staff.
“Parents will have to dig deep into their pockets to finance its implementation,” Otieno says. He predicts that there is a shortage of teaching staff to implement the new curriculum. This means that teachers will have to go for refresher courses in order to implement the new system.
He is of the opinion that both schools and teachers are not ready to implement the new curriculum. “It seems things are being rushed to meet certain political deadlines…Adequate consultations have not been done,” he says.
Otieno says that whereas the new system is welcome, it has serious financial implications. “Nothing good comes cheap. Implementation will not be cheap,” he says, pointing out that the government has not announced extra funding from the treasury to support the implementation.
“There is no financial commitment by the government,” he adds.
Because of the proposed changes, students will bid farewell to the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination (which was being administered after eight years of primary school) and Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination (which was administered after four years of secondary education) as they know them today. Under the new system, assessments will be more continuous.
New subjects are also envisioned. The course of study begins at the pre-primary level where children will be taught digital and financial literacy skills, contemporary issues, as well as life skills. At the Lower Primary level, subjects include indigenous languages, hygiene, environment, religious education, life skills, creative arts and physical education.
In Upper Primary, foreign languages including Arabic, French, German and Chinese are envisioned as optional subjects. Compulsory subjects will include social studies, history and geography. Agriculture, home science, and creative arts will also be taught.
In Lower Secondary, learners will be taught Health Education and Pre-Technical and Pre-Career Education as compulsory subjects. Indigenous and foreign languages and Computer Science will be optional. Whichever pathway one chooses, all learners in Senior Secondary will have to complete 135 hours of community service and physical education.