Politicising Education

Kenya 2022: New curriculum on the spot as campaigns hot up

Tthe Leaders Vision Preparatory School in Ndalat village of Nandi County, Kenya, January 25, 2022. REUTERS/Monicah Mwangi

Deputy President William Ruto is campaigning against the so-called 'competency based curriculum'. It might be just the issue to capture the hearts and minds of parents concerned about issues thrown up by the changes, such as 12 year olds sharing dormitories with 19 year olds. But experts caution against politicising education...

Too expensive? Putting extra demands on children too young? Asking parents to place children in potentially dangerous situations?

Education is always a hot button issue, but in the latest election cycle the reforms to the exams and curriculum has boiled over.

Over two million Kenyan learners aged between 13 and 18 are expected to sit their national exams in March and April. This is in line with the country’s 38-year-old education system that could be completely overhauled by 2027. Over 1.2 million pupils have completed their Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams, the transitional test to secondary school. Another 800,000 students are sitting their Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exams, results of which are the basis of selection to various degree and diploma programs into tertiary institutions.

Starting 2028, learners will no longer need to sit the KCSE exams. Kenya adopted a new education system – the competency based curriculum (CBC) – in 2018, with the first cohort recently concluding fifth grade. In May this year, it is expected that they will resume learning for their final year of primary school, before transitioning to junior secondary school.

The CBC was hurriedly implemented without wide and genuine consultations with stakeholders and the new system is a big burden and an academic frustration [for] Kenyan parents.

Under the CBC system, learners will spend two years in pre-primary level, proceed to primary school from grade one to six, and then transition to secondary school for six years, a period that will be split into two: junior secondary school (three years) and senior secondary school (three years). The final level is three years of university studies.

However, this trajectory may change if politicians succeed in pushing against it.

Learning politics

The ‘Kenya Kwanza’ Alliance, which is led by Deputy President William Ruto, has been campaigning against the CBC.

“When we get in, in August [2022] we will scrap it [CBC], and bring a system that you understand,” Moses Wetangula told a campaign meeting in February in Nyandarua County. Wetangula, who is the Ford Kenya Party leader, is one of the key pillars of the Kenya Kwanza Alliance, which brings together Ruto’s UDA party and Musalia Mudavadi’s Amani National Congress (ANC) party.

Days later, the ANC party said on Twitter: “The CBC was hurriedly implemented without wide and genuine consultations with stakeholders and the new system is a big burden and an academic frustration [for] Kenyan parents.”

Even though Ruto is yet to pronounce himself on the fate of the curriculum, the issue has been repeated in several meetings where he was in attendance. His opponents have also taken cue and are questioning why the education system has become part of the political contest.

“I want to plead to the different political players not to politicise our education system,” says Adan Keynan the Eldas MP and Parliamentary Secretary of the ruling Party (Jubilee). According to Keynan, it is “immoral and unacceptable to politicise a field that requires expertise […]”.

Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi, for his part, wants a solution-based conversation. “You must always give alternatives when you are criticising a situation.”

Nevertheless, Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha has no kind words for the critics. “You can bark out there, but you cannot take a grade six child back to standard one to start preparing for KCPE. […] Which mother will allow you? Magoha says. “Before (you) open (your) mouth, think first.”

The issues

The CBC system was rolled out in 2020 after years of national piloting. The rollout had been expected in January 2019, but the government delayed it by a year. Then Education Minister Amina Mohamed surprised the country on 11 December 2018 when she announced the suspension of the CBC. “The curriculum is great, the design is great, but we need to ensure that all the stakeholders are comfortable before the rollout is done. [For] now, we are not ready,” Mohamed said.

This is an education system that has been forced [down] the throats of Kenyans.

Later that month, she changed tune, extending the pilot phase by one year. However, the damage had already been done – public confidence in the CBC was dented. Consequently, Mohamed didn’t last long in the ministry. President Uhuru Kenyatta moved her to the less influential sports, culture, and arts docket on 1 March 2019, and replaced her with Magoha, a former university don.

Wilson Sossion, a former secretary general of the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT), and now a nominated MP, accuses Magoha of chest thumping. “There has never been CBC in the classroom, there has been deception,” Sossion says. “CBC is (a) high order learning system requiring intensive investment of resources. This is an education system that has been forced [down] the throats of Kenyans.”

Sossion has consistently complained that teachers implementing the curriculum are inadequately trained. “You should be having about 900,000 teachers on the payroll of TSC [Teachers Service Commission] and invest in infrastructure so that you expand the number of classrooms, and reduce [class size] to 20 learners per class.”

As of 2018, a report by the Ethics and Anticorruption Commission showed that TSC had 243,000 teachers deployed to primary and secondary schools, more than half of them at the lower level. On 11 February 2022, Magoha told a media briefing: “The government [has] trained over 230,000 [teachers]. You may argue that the training is not enough. As a professor of international repute, I can tell you that no training is ever enough. It continues until you die.”

John Kaguchia, the speaker of Nyeri County Assembly and a parent of a CBC pupil, faults Magoha for failing to appreciate the intensity of the gaps. “We have [a] shortage of human resources, the teacher learner ratio is at its poorest. (The) professor needs to humbly look at how to bring together various stakeholders.”

Transition concerns

Kenya has over 28,000 primary schools and just over 10,000 secondary schools. There are over 7 million learners between pre-primary one (PP1) and Grade 5 who are going through the new system. With Grade 6 and 7 expected to be domiciled in the secondary schools, critical questions abound: Who will teach junior secondary learners given that the current secondary school teachers are not even enough for the current four levels of secondary school?

Currently, secondary schools have a population of 4.3 million learners. In January 2023, this figure is expected to rise to over 6 million once junior secondary learners are enrolled. Another concern is how learners as young as 12 years will coexist with colleagues as old as 19 years at the highest level – in form four.

Their developmental milestones are not the same.

Peter Ndoro, CEO of the Kenya Private Schools Association, says management of junior secondary schools must be different. “You cannot have a 12 year old and a 19 year old sharing the same dormitory,” Ndoro says. “Their developmental milestones are not the same.”

15% of secondary schools (1,632 as of October 2021) are privately-owned and majority of them have boarding facilities. “Private schools have elected to invest significantly [into] the success of CBC,” Ndoro says. “Junior secondary is a function of secondary schools. Where it will be hosted is a question for the institutions (whether) government or private.”

As for who will teach the learners, the TSC and private institutions may have to employ more teachers to fulfil the new demand, with intensive training required since no teacher in Kenya has had the experience of teaching the junior secondary curriculum. Even so, Magoha says: “The teachers for grade six are there. Teachers for grade seven will be there because they will be trained.”

As the August general election nears, the political class is being urged to consider the interests of learners. “Our prayer is that we should leave CBC out of the campaign,” Ndoro says. “Our political leaders should endeavour to understand what CBC is. Where are we heading, what are the challenges and how do we fix them.”

Cost of CBC

Even though Speaker Kaguchia is allied to the Kenya Kwanza Alliance, he does not believe the CBC system should be abolished. He says he is a product of the 8-4-4 education system, but the new curriculum has been more practical for his child. “The CBC system’s intention (is) good in helping the country move away from theoretical to practical approach; for learners to use their hands and minds more creatively and innovatively,” says Kaguchia.

Majority of stakeholders however agree that the cost implication has been significant for parents. “Parents feel they are being pushed too much to things they cannot afford,” says Mary Korir, a mother of four children enrolled at a private school.

I was not sure [whether] the teachers [at private schools] are trained on the CBC system.

Her eldest son is in Class 6 under the 8-4-4 system. The other children are in Grade 5, 4 and PP2 – all under CBC. She tells The Africa Report that she spends at least $20 (KSh. 2,284) per term above the school fees to facilitate her Grade 5 pupil to complete school assignments. Some of the money is submitted directly to the school to buy items for practical sessions. The sessions involve cooking, stitching and sporting activities.

The eldest child requires no extra facilitation since his education system is different, so Mary has resolved to transfer all her CBC pupils to a public school in the Eastlands area of Nairobi in May. “I was not sure [whether] the teachers [at private schools] are trained on the CBC system. I know the government has been spending money to train their teachers,” Mary says. “Private schools might be hiring cheap labour since they are in business and I fear I might have been paying more money for not so good quality.”

Education budget

The government has this year been putting up 6,400 new classrooms in secondary schools in a first phase of an KSh8bn ($70m) programme to accommodate the extra population. According to the ministry, there is a demand for 20,000 new classrooms.

Speaker Kaguchia, whose child attends a private school, says should Kenya Kwanza Alliance win the election, “one thing to be considered is how do we allocate more resources (for public schools), how do we appoint a cabinet secretary who is more humble and more accommodative”.

The Education Cabinet Secretary says he is leaving CBC to fate. “I am serving the president because he is the commander in chief of the country. When his term ends I shall end it with him. What happens after that, should that be my business? That is God’s business.”