New program on site as the countryside heats up
Too expensive? Put extra demands on children too young? Ask parents to place children in potentially dangerous situations?
Education is always a burning issue, but in the last election cycle exam and curriculum reforms overflowed.
More than two million Kenyan learners between the ages of 13 and 18 are expected to take their national exams in March and April. This is in line with the country’s 38-year-old education system which could be completely overhauled by 2027. More than 1.2 million students have completed their Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations, the test of transition to secondary school. Another 800,000 students take their Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations, the results of which are the basis of selection for various degree and diploma programs at tertiary institutions.
From 2028, learners will no longer need to take KCSE exams. Kenya adopted a new education system – the Competency Based Curriculum (CBC) – in 2018, with the first cohort having recently completed fifth grade. In May this year, they are expected to resume learning for their final year of primary school, before moving on to college.
The CBC was hastily set up without broad and genuine consultations with stakeholders and the new system is a heavy burden and academic frustration [for] Kenyan parents.
Under the CBC system, learners will spend two years at pre-primary level, progress to primary school from grades one to six, and then move on to secondary school for six years, a period which will be divided into two: first secondary cycle (three years) and high school (three years). The last level corresponds to three years of university studies.
However, this trajectory may change if politicians succeed in opposing it.
The Kenya Kwanza Alliance, led by Vice President William Ruto, is campaigning against the CBC.
“When we enter, in August  we will scrap it [CBC], and bring a system you understand,” Moses Wetangula said at a February campaign meeting in Nyandarua County. Wetangula, who is the leader of the Ford Kenya Party, is one of the main pillars of the Kenya Kwanza Alliance, which brings together Ruto’s UDA party and Musalia Mudavadi’s Amani National Congress (ANC) party.
A few days later, the ANC party said on Twitter: “The CBC was hastily set up without wide and genuine consultations with stakeholders and the new system is a heavy burden and an academic frustration. [for] Kenyan parents.
Although Ruto has not yet spoken on the fate of the program, the question has been repeated in several meetings where he was present. Its opponents have also taken their cue and wonder why the education system has become part of political competition.
“I want to implore the various political actors not to politicize our education system,” says Adan Keynan, MP for Eldas and Parliamentary Secretary of the ruling party (Jubilee). According to Keynan, it is “immoral and unacceptable to politicize an area that requires expertise […]”.
MP Ugunja Opiyo Wandayi, for his part, wants a solution-focused conversation. “You should always give alternatives when criticizing a situation.”
Nonetheless, education cabinet secretary George Magoha has no kind words for the critics. “You can bark there, but you can’t take a sixth grader back to first grade to start preparing for the KCPE. […] What mother will allow you? said Magoha. “Before (opening) (your) mouth, think first.”
The CBC system was deployed in 2020 after years of national piloting. The deployment was scheduled for January 2019, but the government delayed it for a year. Then-Minister of Education Amina Mohamed surprised the country on December 11, 2018 by announcing the suspension of the CBC. “The program is great, the design is great, but we need to make sure everyone involved is comfortable before the rollout is complete. [For] now we are not ready,” Mohamed said.
This is an education system that has been forced [down] Kenyans’ throats.
Later that month, she changed her tune, extending the pilot phase for a year. However, the damage had already been done – public confidence in Radio-Canada was shaken. Consequently, Mohamed did not last long in the ministry. President Uhuru Kenyatta moved her to the less influential role of sports, culture and arts on March 1, 2019 and replaced her with Magoha, a former university professor.
Wilson Sossion, former general secretary of the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT), and now an appointed MP, accuses Magoha of beatings. “There was never any CBC in the classroom, there was deception,” Sossion says. “The CBC is (a) high-level learning system requiring an intensive investment of resources. This is an education system that has been forced [down] Kenyans’ throats.
Sossion constantly complained that the teachers who implement the program are insufficiently trained. “You should have about 900,000 teachers on the TSC payroll [Teachers Service Commission] and invest in infrastructure to increase the number of classrooms and reduce [class size] 20 learners per class.
In 2018, a report by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission showed that TSC had 243,000 teachers deployed in primary and secondary schools, more than half of them at lower level. On February 11, 2022, Magoha said during a press briefing: “The government [has] trained more than 230,000 [teachers]. You can say that training is not enough. As an internationally renowned teacher, I can tell you that no amount of training is ever enough. This continues until you die.
John Kaguchia, the Nyeri County Assembly Speaker and parent of a CBC student, criticizes Magoha for not appreciating the intensity of the gaps. “We have [a] shortage of human resources, the teacher-learner ratio is at an all-time low. (The) teacher must humbly look at how to bring together the different stakeholders.
Kenya has over 28,000 primary schools and just over 10,000 secondary schools. There are over 7 million learners between pre-primary (PP1) and year 5 going through the new system. With Grades 6 and 7 to be domiciled in secondary schools, critical questions abound: Who will teach junior secondary learners given that current secondary teachers are not even enough for the current four levels of secondary?
Currently, secondary schools have a population of 4.3 million learners. In January 2023, this figure is expected to rise to more than 6 million once junior high school students enroll. Another concern is how learners as young as 12 will coexist with colleagues as old as 19 at the highest level – in fourth grade.
Their stages of development are not the same.
Peter Ndoro, CEO of the Private Schools Association of Kenya, says the management of junior secondary schools needs to be different. “You can’t have a 12-year-old and a 19-year-old sharing the same dorm,” Ndoro says. “Their stages of development are not the same.”
15% of secondary schools (1632 in October 2021) are private and the majority of them have boarding schools. “Private schools have chosen to invest significantly [into] the success of CBC,” says Ndoro. “Lower secondary is a function of secondary schools. Where it will be hosted is a question for institutions (be they) governmental or private.
As to who will teach the learners, the TSC and private schools may need to employ more teachers to meet the new demand, with intensive training required since no teacher in Kenya has had the experience of teaching the lower secondary curriculum. Still, says Magoha: “The sixth-grade teachers are there. The seventh grade teachers will be there because they will be trained.
With the approach of the general elections in August, the political class is invited to take into account the interests of the learners. “Our prayer is that we should keep CBC out of the campaign,” Ndoro says. “Our political leaders should strive to understand what Radio-Canada is. Where are we going, what are the challenges and how can we solve them.
Cost of SRC
Even though President Kaguchia is allied with the Kenya Kwanza Alliance, he does not believe that the CBC system should be abolished. He says he is a product of the 8-4-4 education system, but the new program has been more convenient for his child. “The intention of the CBC system (is) good to help the country move from a theoretical approach to a practical approach; for learners to use their hands and minds in more creative and innovative ways,” says Kaguchia.
However, the majority of stakeholders agree that the financial implications have been significant for parents. “Parents feel like they’re being pushed too hard into things they can’t afford,” says Mary Korir, mother of four private school children.
I was not sure [whether] 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 5e, 4e and PP2 – all on CBC. She says The Africa Report that she spends at least $20 (2,284 KShs) per term in addition to school fees to help her 5th grade student complete her homework. Some of the money is given directly to the school to buy items for the practical sessions. The sessions include cooking, sewing and sports activities.
The eldest child does not need additional help because his education system is different. Mary therefore decided to transfer all of her CBC students to a public school in the Eastlands area of Nairobi in May. “I was not sure [whether] teachers [at private schools] are trained on the CBC system. I know the government has spent money to train their teachers,” says Mary. “Private schools might hire cheap labor since they are in business and I’m afraid I paid more money for not so good quality.”
The government has set up 6,400 new classrooms in secondary schools this year as part of a first phase of a KSh8 billion ($70 million) program to accommodate the additional population. According to the ministry, there is a demand for 20,000 new classrooms.
President Kaguchia, whose child attends a private school, said that if Kenya’s Kwanza Alliance wins the elections, “one thing to consider is how to allocate more resources (for public schools), how to appoint a secretary to the cabinet who is more humble and more accommodating”.
The Cabinet Secretary for Education says he leaves Radio-Canada to fate. “I serve the president because he is the commander-in-chief of the country. When his term ends, I will finish it with him. What happens after that, should it be my business It’s God’s business.