The disaster that is Kenya’s new “competency-based”curriculum

This is from Business Daily:

….. a Grade Two student at a private primary school in Kiambu County, gets upset every evening that his father, Joseph Mutiga, returns home without a printer.

His homework involves printing assignments almost on a daily basis, and his dad has promised him that he will buy a colour printer to make it easier for him to deliver on the assignments.

print outs must be done in full colour.

The Mutiga household’s story is replicated in most Kenyan households that have school going children in Grade Three and below, who are undertaking the new Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC).

The curriculum, which is set to replace the 8-4-4 system that was criticised for being too theoretical and exam-focused, has won admirers and critics in equal measure.

A small home colour printer costs about Sh10,000, which Mr Mutiga says is a new item on his budget. He is also contemplating installing a home internet connection that will add about Sh2,500 to his monthly budget.

Critics, including the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut), have however warned that the new curriculum will entrench inequalities where only children of the rich and middle class families will afford to provide their children with the relatively expensive learning materials.

Public schools, and especially those in rural areas and urban slums, are most affected as their student populations cannot afford the materials required for the new curriculum. In Kirinyaga County, Jerry Mworia says his son previously brought home class assignments that only required him to use a pencil and a book. After the new curriculum took effect, he is now regularly required to buy items that are not stocked in his neighbourhood shops such as modelling clay.

“I had to make a two-hour round trip to Kerugoya, the nearest place I could find plasticine (a brand of modelling clay). I bought a kilogramme for Sh150.

Kenya’s CBC is a caricature of isomorphic mimicry. Teachers are not ready. Parents are not ready. The government is not ready. It all sounds like a sophomore project gone awry.

Yet millions of Kenyan pupils will be subjected to this disaster of a policy. It is not hard to see how the new system will worsen class-based differences in education outcomes. The curriculum is totally divorced from the lived experience of the vast majority of Kenyans.

Now it would be one thing if the Kenyan government had the capacity to pull it all off. However, the government merely implemented what “consultants” and “advisors”, many of whom obviously had very little local knowledge, suggested. It has done precious little to prepare the country for the policy.

Most reputable education professionals in Kenya oppose the shift.

The textbooks are a disaster. Teachers have not been trained.

Add this to the list of failed “development” projects that are completely divorced from the objective realities of their intended beneficiaries.

Roll-out of the curriculum has taken off poorly, especially in public schools that do not yet have books and other learning materials. Teachers in some public schools were yet to get instruction kits as of late last week. “From the CBC training, we are required to take videos, pictures and in some lessons use the television as a teaching tool, but we do not have any of the supporting equipment and books at my school,” said Mrs Jackline Mueni, a Grade Three teacher in a public school.

Recall that it is the same Uhuru Kenyatta administration that came up with the hair-brained idea to give a laptop to every Standard One pupil. The plan was later shelved, after reality set in.

The clock is ticking on the CBC.


in defense of swahili

Update: the ministry of education has disowned the directive discussed here. Apparently there are still a few sane people under Prof. Ongeri’s docket. Now if only they could also tell us where they took the free primary education money…

When it comes to Swahili I suddenly go nationalist. I think there is something to be said about a people having their own language through which they can package their historical and cultural experiences over time. Kenya has 42 languages and many more dialects. As a nation we can’t use all of them to store our collective experiences. However, unlike most other African states, we are lucky to have a Bantu language that is widely used and that we have appropriated to be our national language. Through Swahili and effective government we can make everyone who speaks Pokot, Sabaot, Kikuyu, Luo or Maragoli Kenyan by creating an imagined community of shared experiences.

The reason I bring this up is that the busy bodies at the Ministry of Education have decided to make Swahili optional at KCPE level. Pupils will be given the option of taking Swahili or sign language. This is madness. I am not against people learning sign language. My concern is that those who will readily place out of Swahili are the very pupils who ought to be learning and speaking more of the language. My conjecture is that the only schools that will afford good sign language teachers will be the pricier ones in the urban areas. These schools have students who can barely speak Swahili because English is the only language they can truly claim to speak. This is a shame.

While we continue trying to Kenyanize people in West Pokot, Suba, Mogotio, Maragua and Garsen, we should not forget the youngsters in Nairobi. They need to be educated in Swahili too. In fact I think it is time we had subjects like religious and social studies (at the primary school level) taught in Swahili – along with English, Math and the Sciences which would obviously still be taught in English for practical reasons.