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Rising to the education challenge

Educators and the government are paying increased attention to international comparisons as they seek to develop effective policies to improve the performance of Kenya’s education system

BY DERRICK VIKIRU

Education reforms in Kenya has been a subject of discussion for decades.  Debates have revolved around curriculum reforms, acquisition of employable skills, education innovations and skills-based approaches. But it is the poor quality of education that resulted in unemployable graduates that pushed the situation to glaring levels. The roll-out of free primary education in 2002 led to a vast increase in primary school enrolment and attendance. But do high enrolment rate and full classrooms necessarily translate to quality?

Net primary enrolment, according to International Futures, a global integrated assessment model, stood at 85 per cent in 2017 (up from 65 per cent in 2000) and is forecast to reach over 93 per cent by 2030. The number of enrolled primary school pupils making it to the final grade rose from 70 per cent in early 2000s to about 93 per cent in 2017.

In the wake of free primary education, Kenya’s education had come under a lot of scrutiny. The Annual Learning Assessment report of 2010 released damning findings on the progress of students across the education spectrum. These included revelations that one out of every 10 Standard Eight pupils cannot solve a Standard Two mathematical problem, and 30 per cent of Standard Fives would fail the same problem while only 20 per cent of Standard Two pupils would solve it.

Major reforms

Former education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi in 2014 also lamented that the teacher-student ratio had declined to its worst levels since free primary education was rolled out in 2002 – to an appalling 85:1 which is way above the 23:1 global average. This, together with other systemic and structural ills and poor policies governing the education framework including the curriculum set ground for the need for major reforms in the education sector.

Since 2015, the country has been carrying out a comprehensive education reform process aimed at coming up with a Competence-Based Curriculum (CBC) that will serve the needs of the 21st Century scholar and market. This marked the advent of the process to wind up the 8-4-4 education system that was faulted by every stakeholder in the education sector as being too rigid and with limited opportunities to align basic education with children’s career interests, aptitudes and abilities. The Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) resolved to adopt a competency-based approach (CBA) in its curriculum reforms based on the findings of a needs assessment study carried out in 2016, international best practices in education systems and curriculum reforms, and a desire to make learning more meaningful for the Kenyan scholar.

During the release of KCPE and KCSE national examination results in 2017, the then cabinet secretary for education, Dr Fred Matiang’i indicated that consultations were still welcome to enhance curriculum reforms. All these preparations marked the beginning of a new dawn for the Kenyan scholar, setting centre stage for the launch of the Competency-Based Curriculum 2-6-3-3-3.

The pilot phase

The multi-sectoral National Steering Committee on curriculum reforms had met to assess the state of preparedness towards the implementation of the new curriculum. They noted with satisfaction the positive and thorough progress made towards the reforms and gave a go ahead to launch the pilot phase II of the curriculum to learners in Grade 1 and 2 as part of the national roll out.

The piloting stage would encompass training of all teachers, refining of the curriculum content, development of a framework for testing and preparation of teaching

and learning materials. It is worth noting that the actual implementation was meant to start this year, but adequate preparation was needed to iron out all the processes to pave way for full implementation of CBC in 2019.

One year on, the pilot roll-out has been marred with a lot of criticism ranging from lack of preparedness and capacity to poor implementation of the curriculum. Critics point out to lack of curriculum support materials, fears that the new system does not cater for the needs of learners with special needs, concerns that some textbooks allegedly being used in schools do not meet set quality standards and inadequate training (or lack thereof) to teachers on the implementation process.

However, the KICD has since come out to strongly refute these claims. According to a press release dated 7 October 2018, KICD has defended their position saying, “Claims that the reform agenda had stalled are misleading and meant to cause unnecessary panic.”

Dr Julius Jwan, KICD Director noted that over time, they have received honest feedback and that challenges highlighted are being addressed to guarantee a smooth roll-out of the new curriculum. He also noted that “the internal evaluation report deliberated by the multi-sectoral National Steering Committee on curriculum reforms indicated satisfaction with the progress. The report indicated that the overall quality of Competence Based Curriculum implementation is rated at 56 per cent against the minimum global threshold of 50 per cent.

External evaluation

The full roll out of the new curriculum from Grade one to Grade 3 is slated for next year, while those in Grade 4 will continue with the piloting phase.  Dr Jwan insists on an external evaluation to ensure mandatory checks are in place and delivery of a quality curriculum is not compromised.

“We cannot only rely on internal evaluation only. We need a third eye to generate comparative findings on our state of preparedness for a full roll-out. That is why even piloting was necessary to bring out gaps so that they can be fixed,” Dr Jwan told the press.

This comes in the wake of a progress report tabled to Cabinet Secretary Amb Amina Mohamed by KICD that still identified several glaring gaps and systemic hitches in the ongoing piloting of the new system just a few months to its full roll-out in 2019. Ms Mohamed disclosed that a team of international experts has been brought in to give their input before the roll-out. “The Ministry wishes to triangulate our internal Competence-Based Curriculum pilot findings with other international experts. As a result, we have commissioned an external evaluation to generate comparative findings on our state of preparedness for a full CBC roll-out,” said Ms Mohamed.

Ms Mohamed has assured the country that the government will supply necessary curriculum support materials to all schools. She also said that the Ministry of Education (MoE) will need to step up the level of preparedness amongst teachers. Ms Mohamed also hinted good progress from the results of the internal evaluation of the curriculum, noting that the quality of learning, learning environment and teaching currently stands at 62 per cent. “I am happy to note that indicators of evaluation based on the evaluation report have shown good results, although we have room for improvement”.

Derrick Vikiru is the Sub-Editor, Management Magazine. Email: dvikiru@kim.ac.ke

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