By Sheila Waswa
Published December 26, 2016
Kenya is replacing its education system after three decades.
The new system, dubbed 2-6-6-3 that replaces the current 8-4-4 that has been in existence since 1985, is expected to come into effect in January 2018 after a national curriculum conference in Nairobi on January 6, 2017.
The 8-4-4 system (eight years in primary school, four years in secondary and another four in university) was aimed at equipping learners with practical skills for self-reliance as the system preceding it, known as 7-4-2-3 (seven years of primary school, four years of Ordinary Level, two years of Advanced Level and three years of university) was viewed as being “too theoretical”.
At inception, 8-4-4 had an integration of both technical and vocational education running from primary to tertiary levels. However, due to criticism for being too broad, too burdensome on learners and too expensive to parents who had to buy learning materials and construct studios, workshops and laboratories for technical and vocational subjects that were dropped along the way, made the 8-4-4 a system that emphasises memorization and passing of examinations rather than the mastery and application of content taught.
As the country strives to achieve its development plan 2030 at which Kenya expects to be transformed into a newly industrialized county (NIC) with a middle income economy, it is important that its education system develops human resource that can steer the country towards that direction. The adoption of 2-6-6-3 system therefore will seal loopholes in the current system by focusing on equipping learners with skills that will enable them to cope with changes in the social, cultural and economic realms of life.
The 2-6-6-3 system is expected to focus on academic, talent development, national values and vocational training.
The system will include two years in pre-primary, three years in lower and another three in upper primary, three years each for both junior and senior secondary school and three years in university.
Pre-primary education will focus on imparting morals and ethics that mould a child into what is described as responsible and proud Kenyan citizen.
The curriculum for primary school level will have fewer subjects so that more time can be used to develop learners” non-academic abilities with upper primary school being specifically designed to provide opportunity for self-exploration.
At junior secondary, students will be exposed to many subjects while creating an environment for them to explore their abilities, personality and potential.
The senior level of high school will enable a student to focus on areas of specialisation based on their abilities and interests before sitting examination which determines whether they proceed to university, polytechnic or sports academy.
The assessment procedure in the 2-6-6-3 is also modified to a competency based assessment where learners will be tested on application of skills and knowledge in real life rather than on memorisation of content as is currently the case with the 8-4-4 curriculum.
While “classes” and “standards” will be renamed “grades” as learners will only be taught content that is appropriate to their age, the Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC) will also be renamed Kenya Educational Assessment Council (KEAC) and strengthened to address all matters related to management and administration of assessments.
But is the 2-6-6-3 the panacea it is being presented as?
Not necessarily, according to Dr James Ole Kiyiapi, a former Education Permanent Secretary under whose tenure efforts to replace the 8-4-4 continued: “There is no single system of education across the world that can serve all generations at all the time- the system overhaul does not particularly dismiss the 8-4-4 system as one that has failed but as one that is “outdated”.
Charleys Ghoverhn, while commenting on an article in Kenyan.co.ke, contends that, “The problem has never been the 8-4-4 system. The problem has always been in the hurried manner in which it was implemented and the subsequent apathy that the system elicited. Unless we cure the same problems that bedeviled the 8-4-4 system, the newly crafted system is already in danger of sinking to the same depths with adverse consequences.”
The failures of the 8-4-4 are attributed to lack of proper planning and formulation of contingency plans by the government before the implementation of the system some 31 years ago.
Fred Matiang’i, Kenya’s Education Minister, assures Kenyans that the government is not in a hurry to implement the new system without having consulted the various stakeholders to guard against repeating mistakes.
Dr Matiang’i stresses that the new system is free of political machinations and that its aim is to solely serve the interests of Kenyan citizens by ensuring that learners have access to quality education.
What will the government give priority to in the implementation of the new system? Will it be construction of extra facilities like sports academies, polytechnics, studios and workshops or will it be provision of amenities like classrooms, laboratories and books at primary and secondary schools that are currently insufficient and which contributed to the 8-4-4’s perceived failures at living up to expectation for self-reliance?
Polytechnics, vocational training institutions and other mid-level colleges which are cited as being elemental structures in the new system were upgraded to universities by successive political regimes as Kenyans appear to place a higher premium on degree than on diploma certification. This is one of the issues that must be addressed to ensure the proposed education system lives up to expectation.
The first two years of pre-primary school might also turn out to be a waste of resources if the responsibility of teaching children ethics and morals is entirely left to teachers without an incorporation of parents, leaders and the whole society at large. Charity begins at home and socialisation for impressionable minds is shaped by everything they see and hear around them.
The Sh340 billion (US$3.4 billion) used in the system overhaul, as some critics have contended, would have been better utilised if invested in the existing problematic system with an aim of revamping it rather than overhauling it.
A United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report states that Kenya suffers from a shortage of more than 80000 primary school teachers.
Teachers Service Commission, that hires teachers in the East African county’s public schools, has been reprimanded for not employing trained teachers amidst claims that the government lacks the capacity to pay the teachers.
The teachers in service in the country are also not evenly distributed in public schools all over the country as revealed by a government report dubbed the Basic Education Statistical Booklet, giving an undue advantage over some learners over others.
But Dr Matiang’i says there will be reformation of the teacher-training for the new education curriculum to be successful. This seems to take into cognizance that the new system places extra responsibilities on teachers who, besides teaching, must also help identify their strengths.
Indeed Wilson Sossion, the Secretary-General of Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT), argues that “Kenya needs to migrate and employ modern teaching and learning tools [and] re-package the teacher-training programme so that it can give us better teachers. We cannot rely on a 1960 curriculum that was developed to meet the need of lack of teachers.’
Ensuring that all teachers are formally trained in the teaching profession might also guarantee that quality of education in Kenya improves.