By Patricia Andago

Let’s go down memory lane a little… In 1985, there was a shift from the 7-4-2-3 system to the 8-4-4 system. The curriculum was improved from one that modelled learners to get white-collar jobs, to a more practical-oriented curriculum that would enable graduates of the system to create jobs. The curriculum was used for many years, but there was concern about the workload involved, and the focus on academics and student ranking based on exam performance.

We talked to Anastasia Lugoma, an Early Childhood Development (ECD) expert who has been a teacher for several years and taught four different education systems, including 8-4-4, International Baccalaureate (IB), International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) and the Competency-based Curriculum (CBC).

“The 8-4-4 ideology was great, and initially a lot of practical skills were taught, but somewhere along the line we lost the objective. 8-4-4 became too competitive!”- Anastatia Lugoma, early childhood education expert.

Later, in 2011, a task force formed to drive education reforms as part of the new Constitution, carried out a needs assessment to understand what Kenyans expected to gain from primary and tertiary education.

After this assessment, it was determined that students needed more of a learner centered approach to education where the student self-learns based on their key talents and abilities, conveying competencies that can be utilized in their everyday life. The system was to align with Vision 2030, Kenya’s development blueprint, and make education more practical and accessible.

The Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development then formulated policies, designed the curriculum, and then launched the Competency-based Curriculum, CBC, in 2017. In 2018, the Ministry of Education shared with primary schools four volumes of the CBC curriculum.

Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed announced that the country was not ready to accommodate the CBC, saying resources and gaps in teacher training were challenges, and hence wanted to push the roll out date to 2020.

However, government agencies and stakeholders pressured her to move the rollout date forward, hence the new system was rolled out a whole year earlier, in January 2019. One and a half years later, it is clear that Amina was right, the roll out of the CBC came too soon and, coupled with the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, it has been an endless nightmare for parents and students.

“CBC is a great system. It teaches children to think and develop character at a young age. However, teachers do not have enough training on how to go about the CBC system. Several stakeholders are confused, and some parents feel like the quality of the curriculum has been diluted, hence some parents are moving their children from CBC schools to IGCSE schools. Unfortunately, only the middle class can afford to do this.” – Anastasia Lugoma, early childhood education expert

Much fewer options for poor students

On 15th March 2020, Kenya suspended learning in all education institutions with immediate effect. This disrupted 17 million learners countrywide. When schools were reopened after an awfully long 9 months, attending school was no longer an option for students from low-income households. The pandemic had ravaged low-income households and parents were unable to pay for school costs.

Female students’ turnout was also affected, with many of them having gotten pregnant, and some parents being unwilling to continue to support their ‘defiant’ daughters’ education, especially at a time when they were heavily financially strained.

The inaccessibility of schools also contributed towards the school enrolment drops. Recent data from the government’s Elimu sponsorship programme and the Equity Foundation’s Wings to Fly Initiative shows that only 9% of the 114,765 students who applied for secondary school bursaries will receive the funds to finance their education.

Several needy students unable to get financial support for secondary education

Source :Equity Foundation, Government’s Elimu sponsorship programme

Low-cost schools have also become fewer, and public schools are full. By the end of 2020, Statistics from Kenya Private Schools Association (KPSA) showed that over 330 private schools in the country had closed shop, leaving 55,000 learners in the cold.

As if dealing with the hustle of searching for alternative schools and looking for funds to finance their children’s education was not hard enough, the drastic changes in the school calendar dealt parents another blow. The condensed calendar, which includes extremely short holiday breaks in between school terms, does not give parents sufficient time to raise the funds required to cater for school costs. It will be quite a stretch for them to keep up with the new school calendar for the next 3 years, which may result in more school dropouts.

“Parents are really complaining about the short holidays because they cannot raise the required school fees in 1 week. Teachers are also complaining about the long working hours and minimal rest.” – Peris Akinyi, Teacher from Little Stars Junior School, Mombasa.

“How do they expect us to raise school fees in 1 week?! It’s unfair!” – Thomas Karanja, Parent

Before parents were done airing their grievances about the unfavorable school calendar, they were asked to purchase an unreasonable quantity of curriculum support materials.

“Parents are having such a rough time. Previously textbooks could be recycled. A parent could buy books once they are handed down to all their children, or they could buy affordable second hand books. Now, parents have to buy new books and the cost is beyond what most can afford.” – Peris Akinyi, Teacher, Little Stars Junior School, Mombasa.

Moving forward

The CBC system has created a bigger education gap and COVID-19 has widened it further. It looks like the government needs to go back to the drawing board and correct budgetary and teaching gaps for the transition to the CBC system to be efficient.

The recent slashing of public secondary school fees is a good start, but given the limited number of public schools, a stimulus package needs to be applied across the board (public and private, urban and rural institutions) to ensure education is accessible to all.

The government needs to increase the funding for bursaries, as several poor students are currently missing out on the minimal bursaries being provided. There should also be a provision of funding to invest in construction of more schools, or to assist the schools that have shut down as a result of the pandemic to reopen.

Regarding the new school calendar, additional measures may need to be put in place to give parents sufficient time to raise school fees. Moreover, other measures will need to be implemented to ensure children are not psychologically affected by the shortened school holidays.

The learning resources must also be reconsidered as the current requirements are out of reach for many students. The usage of excess textbooks is unnecessary, and the list of books required must be shortened to focus only on those that are highly necessary.

Alternatively, the government should provide the laptops that they had promised to give primary school students back in 2013 so that students do not need to purchase many textbooks.

As a number of students prepare to go back to school this week, several have been left out, and the longer children are out of school, the greater the risk that the poorest among them will never return. Adjustments must be made to make schools more inclusive and efficient.

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