What is Wrong with the New So-Called Curriculum in Kenya

By Wandia Njoya, PhD

This new curriculum thing is so bad. The problem with education is that unlike medicine, where people generally respect medics, few of you reading this even think that our experience and training qualify us teachers to comment on education.

Just look at the way you trash graduates and do not even bother to ask us teachers why the graduates are the way they are. Yet I can tell you that it has little to do with what happens in the classroom, if you care to listen.

However, let me tell you what is wrong with the new so-called ‘curriculum.’ That is, if you will listen to a teacher. Somehow, it is the HR person whom you think is more qualified than I to tell you about the new curriculum. Here is what is wrong:

It is not a new curriculum

It is a system replacement. We are not ready. The next five years are going to be chaotic with people trying to figure out what the heaven is going on.

Are exams to blame?

To say that the problem with 8-4-4 is the summative evaluation (KCPE and KCSE) is to misunderstand the problem of exams. Let me school us on how exams became the monster they are now.

The British introduced exams. They were anxious that African teachers teaching African kids would not teach them ‘God save the queen’. They were afraid that Africans might talk about Mekatilili or Dedan Kimathi. Nevertheless, since they could not supply British teachers throughout the colony, they used (guess what?) exams.

By having and imposing Cambridge exams from Cambridge UK, and using those results to give access to education and jobs, even a Mary Masumbuko like me, who wants to teach that South Africa was a refreshment stop, would have to “stick to the syllabus,” because kids want to compete for few high school and university places and even fewer jobs.

Therefore, the problem of exams is about control and scarcity. As long as we have a colonial-style government and unemployment, exams will stay. Moreover, while Matiang’i is waxing about no KCPE, more rich parents will make their kids sit for international exams while the kids of the poor can go to hell!

Ati competency based what?

Competency based education is for vocational training. It relates directly to jobs, meaning tertiary level. How are we talking about competency-based education for 4 and 5 year olds whom we have not even taught how to read? On KTNs youth show, they even called a HR professional to comment on the education of kids!

What are we thinking expecting early childhood education to tackle unemployment directly? Are we crazy? Even those engineers KEPSA was whining about cannot get engineering training if they have no skills in language and math. Haki…

However, let me tell you what is even worse about this competency-based mess. It is class stratification. They will tell poor kids who do not do well in school that they have ‘talent’. The poor kids will not get access to the 15% and 10% quotas the government has reserved for those who get access to better education.

They will hear that they should settle for being cooks and cleaners because that is their “talent.” Moreover, you know how it is – ethnicity already ties to class. Therefore, if you are not from a community along the railway, you will be condemned to permanent affirmative action from those who rule the country.

So now, I hear that so annoying, mis-educated question “what is your solution?”

  1. Invest in educational infrastructure, schools, and quality teachers.
  2. Loosen the grip of KICD and CUE on education from early childhood to university and open education to public scrutiny. These government people are using 19th century logic to run 21st century classrooms. They may use buzzwords like “technology,” but they surely do not know what they are saying.
  3. Invest in ICT, community libraries, museums, archives and cultural centers nationwide, to loosen the pressure on schools as the only source of education. Surely, a school system cannot be the only way Kenyans get to learn.
  4. Stop this nonsense of ‘talent’ and start talking of ARTS EDUCATION. Moreover, y’all business types who think they know what arts are – please keep quiet. You do not know what you are saying.
  5. Fix the apprenticeship system. Give companies incentives to give on-the job training and establish technical training departments.
  6. Fund the sciences. Reward scientists with opportunities to research and use their expertise. Make labs work and reprimand universities that use research funds for administration. This thing of saying KWS does not need ecologists but managers must stop.
  7. Revive the union movement. Part of the reason why people are not taking technical jobs is simple – working conditions suck. No one is going to earn 4M a month for being a great technician. If he gets a job, he is going to have orders barked at him in Chinese, get paid peanuts, and never be promoted. If he gets hurt on the job, NHIF will not pay his bills. Unions need more respect in negotiating better wage terms. Business people (again) need to leave us teachers alone and look at the wage conditions before they start making the arts the scapegoats for problems of their own creation. If there are well paying technical jobs, believe me, Kenyans will go into technical careers. We are not as stupid as business people think.

I pity the poor

Now, I have not gone into ending corruption and dictatorship so that the political culture can thrive, and the economy can thrive. Even that affects education. The point is education is not one of those sectors you can fix while leaving the rest of the society broken. The education system always and can only reflect the society itself.

I pity the poor in Kenya. This curriculum will condemn their kids to poverty eternally. It is no wonder the curriculum came from Britain. They are still nostalgic for a class system. In addition, remember, again, the class is ethnicized in Kenya. That means certain tribes will have higher percentages among the poor.

Yep – with this new ‘curriculum’, education is no longer the great social equalizer.


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George Githinji
George Githinji
Githinji is passionate about devolved governance and public finance. He also comments on topical issues in Kenyan politics and society. In addition, he manages the @UgatuziKenya platform.

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