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How the old education system created failures


Before the overhaul of Kenya’s 8-4-4 education system of 32 years, pertinent questions were raised about its viability in a knowledge economy. Were our classes more focused on memorisation, studying and standardised testing? Did we put emphasis on exploration, independent thinking and creativity? Were our schools in Kenya competitive or collaborative? Were students encouraged to learn about themselves and choose their own career paths?

While we cannot totally disregard the advantages of the system, the rigid learning and exam-oriented system had ruined and killed the creativity and innovativeness of many students.  How many learners has this system condemned to failure and doomed destiny?

Academic pressure

The traditional Kenyan approach to education is outdated. Domineering teachers discourage open questioning. A blatant emphasis on standardised testing keep children studying instead of exploring. External rewards are prioritised over a love of learning, leading to academic pressure that creates undue psychological burdens.

The typical Kenyan classroom has generally been centred around the teacher, with children sitting in rows with ‘bright students’ at the front. The curriculum in the formative years focused on singing roman alphabets. In higher classes, learners spend a whole eight hours a day in school and more hours on homework and preps.

The system is so exam centred. For example, of the 615,773 students who sat for KCSE in 2017, only 70,000 got entry to university, while 350,467 scored below D plain. A focus on passing tests can kill a student’s natural interests and prevent exploration and creativity.

Weight in early education

But everything is set to change with the rollout of the new system, and this will be a blessing to Kenyan learners. Kenyan leadership should benchmark with the best global education systems such as Finland, a country that has had repeated success in national education rankings. The Finnish education system has been touted as the best in the world, putting nations like UK and US to shame.

The country places considerable weight on early education. Before Finnish kids learn anything else, they first learn how to be kids — how to play with one another and mend emotional wounds. Finland’s education system is decentralised, with the municipalities taking ownership for the delivery of education in their area. Tuition is totally free and there are no private schools.

Decentralisation of the Finnish education system has brought the need for a highly trained and skilled teaching workforce. This has not only raised the profile of teaching in Finland but has also seen teachers held in high regard, and as a result, teaching is a highly valued and reputable profession.

It’s a new dawn for Kenya and the new education system should be based on equality and access to quality education. There should be a good school for every child in every community.

Derrick Vikiru is the Sub-Editor Management Magazine. Email:

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