If there is anything so bizarre to an educator like myself, it's the secrecy and the hurry to change Kenya's education system so fundamentally.
For the longest time, we the public, including we who train teachers, relied on press reports to figure out what the new education system is about. Our queries on social media to the Education CS and KICD gave us PR statements about stakeholders being involved, but we still could get no access to the documents themselves. Eventually, a teacher exasperated with our complaints challenged us to google the document and get a copy. What I found was the Basic Education Curriculum Framework, whose file name indicates final, but looks like the badly done term papers that I sometimes grade.
The first thing that is striking about the document is that it has nothing uniquely Kenyan. The document quotes the British Council too many times for an ex-British colony like us to be comfortable, especially when we know how the British engineered our education system to entrench colonialism. Yet the British Council document is not listed in the bibliography. Likewise, none of the theories guiding the approach to subjects is Kenyan or African. In fact, some of the references are as old as 1973. Surely, are we using these dead white men for a curriculum review in 21st century Africa?
And to rub it in my point about the foreign involvement in this "review," one just needs to look at those whom the KICD director thanks for writing the policy document:
1. Government ministries
2. Development partners.....****
3. Religious organizations
4. KICD people
5. MoE consultants.
British Council gets a special mention for "providing technical support to conceptualisation, design and development of the Framework." In other words, the people of Kenya, from the communities to the parents to the teachers to the kids, didn't get a word in.
Nothing uniquely Kenyan
Honestly, the document reads like a patchwork of copy pasting from different documents to produce a single one with nothing uniquely Kenyan. The document does not state exactly which problems the curriculum review is supposed to address and how the new system addresses them. It would therefore appear that the reason Kenyans support the review is only because we think that it addresses what each one of us has complained about, but we're not even sure we're complaining about the same thing.
The second uniquely Kenyan element that is required in any curriculum review is the question of inequality. The disparity in resources and public utilities across the country has significant impact on the quality of education even now. At the very least, some of the education systems cited as benchmarks should have included the challenges of educating the underprivileged in Kenya, throughout the continent and maybe even countries with huge African diasporas - especially the Americas. If we don't know how problems of inequality affect education, we're wasting our time reforming education.
The KICD document uses education systems in several countries as a benchmark, but does not discuss the issue of how social inequalities affect education. Yet the proposed continuous assessments would require a greater number of teachers who can continuously assess students, when some schools barely have enough teacher to teach a class of 60 students. Moreover, with the new system requiring secondary school students to choose between three tracks, Arts and Sports Science, Social Science and STEM, what is likely to happen is that underprivileged areas will be thrown to the arts and sports track under the illusion that arts and sports require no equipment or teachers - just talent.
The generic-ness of the document is so suspicious, that the document needs to be put through Turnitin or another plagiarism check. I already found small sections of the document elsewhere online. Worse, some edit marks are still in the document.
A good chunk of the document is about explanation of the different subjects that need to be taught, leading to the impression that the document isn't really about a fundamental overhaul of the system. What it does is to restructure subjects and increase exams (there is an addition mid-high school exam), and to force students to choose the track they want before they enter college. What is not clear is why curriculum review and revision requires the restructuring of the whole sytem.
Training in Skills
The document also talks about communication, critical thinking and global citizenship, which are skills everyone should have regardless of their discipline, yet nothing in the curriculum indicates how those skills will be taught across the curriculum. Surely, basic reading, writing (communication) and digital skills should be receiving emphasis.
Perhaps the element of the new curriculum that Kenyans are finding so attractive is the idea that kids will no longer need to sit examinations at the end of the cycle that are so definitive about their opportunities in life. However, nothing in the document suggests that the monster of end of cycle exams is about to go away.
The document also fails to remove the confusion in the Kenyan mind of placement exams with summative assessment. Currently, KCPE and KCSE perform both roles, and that is why education has been reduced to drilling students to pass them. However, the document does not indicate what placement examinations will be used to admit young people in the universities. Secondly, with all the cheating in examinations, con tinuous assessment gives even more space to compromise teachers and students. That issue has not been addressed.
Curriculum is not everything
I think the greatest mistake we've made as Kenyans is to believe that everything in education can be addressed by tinkering with the system and nothing else. Yet education, by its very nature, is a very complex social enterprise. For example, we cannot tackle the problem of exam cheating if we do not examine how the employment practices of Kenya today. The current obsession of using certificates to employ and promote is part of what is feeding the obsession with certificates. Of course, some employers say that they do not use just certificates, but we need national guidelines on hiring so that our kids, parents and teachers know that it is not enough to get certificates.
Let me just say that with all the great minds we have in this country and continent, I'm embarrassed that we are making such a fundamental change to our education system using such a superficial document. However, the reform seems to be more about what the president wants, rather than what the country needs. If we are indeed equating the two, then may God save Kenya.
But again, maybe I've analyzed the wrong document, which points to the problem of the Education Ministry's failure to make the information publicly accessible. That said, I would be happy to read the right document with anyone who cares to share it with me.