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Developing future leaders

The new Kenyan education system has removed examinations at different levels and now uses an evaluation approach throughout the child’s education life.


In 1985, the first lot of students sat for their final exams in primary school under the then new system of 8-4-4.  After 32 years of emphasis on many subjects, good grades and long school hours, there is a new system that is a breath of fresh air for students, parents and teachers. The 2-6-3-3-3 system has two years pre-primary and six years in primary. Students then go into three years of junior secondary and another three years of senior secondary before being able to continue with tertiary education at vocational centres or at university.

One of the main criticisms of the 8-4-4 system has been the over emphasis on grades. When the obsession at each examination level is to score high grades, then stakeholders beat the system by finding ways to get the highest marks possible. This has led to cramming of information rather than understanding. In other cases, it has meant cheating, drilling children in various topics and even using weekends and holiday months for extra tuition.

A triumph for children

A research scientist with African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC) – Benta Abuya, calls the new education curriculum a triumph for Kenyan’s children. In an article by the same title, Abuya discusses how the system has removed examinations at different levels and now uses an evaluation approach throughout the child’s education life.

Abuya argues that children have different abilities and that this needs to be recognised and nurtured. One of the key components of the new system is a focus on life skills.

The United Nations organization that focuses on children, UNICEF, defines life skills as “psychosocial abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life.”   UNICEF highlights the need for individuals to have analytical and interpersonal skills that have to do with being able to communicate with others and self-awareness. Life skills like communication, decision making, problem solving, assertiveness, coping with stress, resilience and self-awareness/empathy are all key in building members of the society.

One cannot help but notice that some of these life skills are required in leadership. The Centre for Creative Leadership, which focuses on leadership development across the globe, highlights four skills that are necessary for any career. These are self-awareness, communication, influence and learning agility.

Self-awareness is key

Being able to understand self and personal strengths and weaknesses allows leaders to apply different leadership styles when working with diverse people. One can only lead others when he/she is able to answer the question – who am I? The process of self-awareness builds empathy. Concern for others and concern for the society at large seems to be a missing ingredient and the lack of empathy has contributed to the disintegration of society.

Effective communication requires one to be able to ask the right questions; have the right kind of curiosity and master the skill of listening. Many of us do not listen, we plan our answers while listening leading to bias, misunderstanding and even a general lack of comprehension.

Being ready to learn from anything and anyone is a good way to explain learning agility. Learning can be from observation, or from trial. Society today frowns upon making mistakes especially in the education system where failure in examinations is considered a shame for the student and the family. What if this failure was simply a stepping stone to learning? What if students were open to trying again and learning more, thus building resilience as well?

Coaching, facilitation and mentoring

Abuya notes that for the new education system to succeed, the methods of teaching need to change to incorporate options like coaching, facilitation and mentoring. Coaching and mentoring are interventions used by leaders to bring out the best in the people they work with. The days of telling people what to do are no longer the norm. Allow people to think for themselves and find the right answers to fit the problems. If we apply these skills in teaching, then we should show by example exactly how leaders should be interacting with their followers.

The new education system also focuses on incorporation of values and ethics. Dr Tim Kiruhi of Executive Leadership Network – a non-profit organization that works to transform leaders in society – defines ethics as “doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, for the right motive.” He also notes that success of an individual in the new education system will be based on a combination of skills, values and ethics practiced by a nation’s citizens.

Jack Ma insists on the need to teach values and independent thinking. This is what the new education system in Kenya must do to ensure transformation in leadership for the future generations.

Thrity Engineer-Mbuthia is a PhD student of management and leadership at Management University of Africa. Email:

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