An important development today in our education sector is the envisaged departure from the 8-4-4 system through an outcomes-based curriculum reform known as the competency-based curriculum (CBC).
This has resulted in several structural and policy tensions within the education system. It is obvious that the tensions that have dominated the CBC reform are because of a significant paradigm shift focus that combines knowledge and cognition as well as skills in the classroom as expressed in the new revisionism in the education debate.
From a policy point of view, the current dilemma demonstrates how the pursuit of grand philosophies and ideals such as CBC or even quality education requires a great deal of technical and political skills that cannot be achieved overnight.
This calls for realism and pragmatism in school reform by focusing attention not only on what schools stand for but also on what they can realistically do and achieve, given their legacies and the circumstances in which they operate.
Serious research needed
Indeed, for a meaningful reform of any education system, a country must go beyond politically correct moves such as getting views from townhalls but rather engage in serious research in comparative studies and economic models of funding education, for example.
This requires a great deal of technical expertise and, perhaps out of necessity, political acumen. It is against this background that the Presidential Working Party on Educational Reforms needs to take cognisance of the significance of evidence-based policy formulation. In particular, the current dilemma of Grade 6 transition requires expert engagement to configure its requirements, intentions, and consequences for effective implementation.
A serious and pragmatic examination of funding modalities, infrastructure development and capacity inputs are critical if we purpose to have products from the system that will function as competitive global citizens in the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century.
In this regard, the Working Party must ensure that part of its outputs will include recommendations on: setting up of governance mechanisms that encourage community participation in the management of schools; new norms for school funding; effective professional development of educators, and a National Qualifications Framework, which harmonises vertical and horizontal mobility of learners throughout the education system. A critical decision for the Working Party will be advocating for social fiscal support in the form of a rationalised household contribution for funding education.
The approach should, out of the harsh economic realities, allow for pro-poor modalities such as a voucher-system that would allow for rational disbursement of capitation to schools based on the poverty index, hence serving as a safety-net for the poor.
The current universal capitation model for free day secondary education, for example, goes against tested education-production function models, particularly for a country whose wastage levels are a point of reference globally and whose economy cannot continue to provide a Gross Domestic Product allocation of close to seven per cent on education. The Presidential Working Party has to address the following pain points arising out of the CBC Implementation.
First, the CBC’s glamorous vision against the country’s economic realities. Second, symbolism that depicts CBC as the panacea for all our educational problems against the glaring disparities in the model on knowledge acquisition considering its value to learning in critical thinking, synthesis and creation.
Third, the complicated curriculum framework designs that hinder effective pertinence by incapacitated teachers. Fourth, diverse conditions for implementation of CBC in Kenyan classrooms given the inequities across schools in the country. Fifth, expected outcomes of CBC and the capacity of teachers to translate them into reality and sixth, budget limitations against commitment to values such as equity and quality as stipulated in our constitution.
Contrary to critics who have linked the crisis surrounding CBC to its apparent international roots, the National Evaluation of the CBC pilot, in which I was the Principal Investigator, placed the blame on the design and the implementation strategy. In the national pilot it was obvious that conversations prior to the CBC roll out tended to focus on curriculum implementation and not on the theoretical underpinnings of curriculum change.
From the pilot study findings, hard questions critical to curriculum reform were neglected in the conceptualisation: What is 21st century education? Why did curriculum reforms since independence (Ominde, Gachathi, Mackay, Kamunge, Koech), without exception, fail on the skills acquisition outcome? What is the curriculum of the future? How will learning take place? How do we organise knowledge to improve learning? What pedagogical approaches are to be adopted? What will be the funding model?
This, in my opinion, should be the prime focus of the Presidential Working Party on reforms.
Having been inspired by debates on the high wastage rates of the 8-4-4 system, CBC was generated in a context where skills and training concerns prevailed over educational concerns, and narrow measurable skills over thinking capabilities.
The debates moved from a narrow conception of competences to a narrower conception of outcomes as expressed in the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development model framework. Most importantly, it was not clear what clusters of knowledge or content should be brought together to facilitate learning, in what sequence, and at what level of competence.
As such CBC has remained heavy in integration but conceptually light. This is the challenge of not just where to place the products of Grade Six but more critically the content and pedagogy of their instruction as they migrate into their pathways such as sciences, technical subjects, applied humanities, talent skills among others.
Grades Seven, Eight and Nine will determine the county’s economic, political, and social development trajectory. This brings to the fore the need for the Working Party to give serious attention to the attendant pedagogical mappings for CBC coupled with the appropriate infrastructure. Funding models and appropriate staffing norms’ simulations will be essential to formulate viable policies to take this country into the 21st century.
The other grey area relates to the political process that should have informed the curriculum development. After the active involvement of the Kenya National Union of Teachers and Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers in initial curriculum debates, the technocrats (experts)—including foreign consultants—hijacked the process at the expense of the role of practitioners.
The consequences were twofold: the role of the teachers in curriculum design became marginal and the curriculum was framed and mystified by impenetrable and obscure jargon.
CBC is criticised for using inaccessible language to teachers who are supposed to implement it, there is also a proliferation of new terminology in its implementation.
Indeed, the procedures for developing a learning programme are deemed complex and hence the need for better prepared teachers which in our case does not hold.
By the way, are teacher unions currently enlisted in the Presidential Working party? This could be another misstep.
There is, therefore, a need to reclaim the pedagogical and cognitive aspects of schooling that have been lost through too much emphasis on outcomes, to bring back to the fore the role of the teacher—a player whom research has shown is a critical ingredient to learning, particularly in our resource constrained environment.
How the country fairs on in terms of social-economic development will be determined by how well we situate the junior secondary level regarding facilities, appropriate staffing, and the resourcing for the same.
This constitutes the main challenge to the Presidential Working Party on Educational Reforms as they map the path of education in our country.
Prof Laban P. Ayiro is the Vice Chancellor, Daystar University