Kenya’s education system last week marked a milestone of sorts, with the administering of a nationwide assessment for the first group of pupils in primary schools to learn under a new curriculum.
Officials say the skills-based competency-based curriculum (CBC) aims to ‘develop learners wholly’, and shift the measurement of learning progress from tortuous examinations to continuous assessments.
Kenya is also changing its education system from the current 8-4-4 to 2-6-3-3-3 that will see learners ideally spend two years in pre-school, six years in primary school, three years in junior secondary school, three years in senior secondary school and three years at university or college.
The Grade Three Assessment got underway against a backdrop of widespread criticism of the new learning methods under the CBC and scepticism about its success.
Teachers’ unions have taken issue with the preparation, arguing that the government didn’t conduct appropriate training for the tutors.
Civil society groups have warned about the prospects of it further widening the country’s already worrying inequalities.
Parents complain about routine homework and meeting instructions that seem to put a significant share of the teaching and learning burden on them.
Personal disclosure: I’m writing this column in a hurry because I have to attend the CBC Parents’ Orientation at my daughter’s school starting in the next one hour. The government’s reaction to any concerns raised about the philosophy and the implementation of the CBC has been either dismissive or punitive.
By employing strong-arm tactics against Wilson Sossion, the embattled secretary-general of the Kenya Union of Teachers (Knut), for example, the government has succeeded in muting a key voice in the CBC debate. But the goofs and flaws exposed by last week’s Grade Three Assessment suggests that much of the criticism of the CBC is valid, and that the government had better listen to the other voices – however uncomfortable.
On the sidelines of a training programme in Nairobi on Friday, I picked a conversation with an education expert working for an international development agency and I was left dumbfounded by the many flaws she was able to point out in minutes.
From the desks being rearranged in the classroom, to the overbearing presence of teachers moving around ‘invigilating’ and the pupils being given a standard time to finish, the so-called assessment was a national examination by any other name. Teachers complained about their challenges handling big classes or lacking the materials. Without a comprehensive independent evaluation, it is too early to declare the first national assessment under the new curriculum a flop though.
But the obvious relapse to the old habits, the public display of ill-preparedness and the recurrence of the resource challenges that undermined the implementation of the old system it is seeking to replace should at least serve as a wake-up call to the government.