“The competency-based system aims to address the weaknesses of the 8-4-4 system.” She stated. And then she asked: “Dr. Jwan, what is the CBC aim to achieve?”
Dr. Jwan replied: “Maybe I would just try to modify that [question] a bit. In working on a curriculum reform, you don’t necessarily start from the weaknesses. It just happens that a time comes when the society has moved on, and the education system has to move on.”
But more than that, I often asked what the needs assessment research, which KICD claimed to have carried out, determined as the needs that are not being met by the current education system. For the longest time, the documents were not available and the officials could not answer that question.
But by this week, enough time had passed for Dr. Jwan to realize that the justification of changing the curriculum on the basis of “bad, bad, 8-4-4” was not going to work. So instead, he said that “it just happens that a time comes.”
Dr Jwan did not specify what time that was, or where society has moved on to, so that we know where the education systems is moving on to.
Dr Jwan’s argument seems harmless, but upon further analysis, it emerges as disturbing. “it just happens that a time comes” is not sufficient reason to change a system. We change a system because we want to make it work for us, not simply because it is time.
But such a reasoning is acceptable in the Euro-centric concept of time and of Africa’s place in it. In the modern euro-centric and hugely capitalist logic, everything must be placed on a linear scale called “progress,” and things must change only because of the passage of time. Context and impact do not matter.
As a result, “progress” is a permanent contradiction to the African American proverb “if it aint broke, don’t fix it.” Progress assumes everything is broken, and if it isn’t, progress will break it so that it can have something to fix. And, as the tech world shows us, progress is also a way to make money. Tech companies keep outdating perfectly good, and still relatively new systems and offering almost identical products in their place, so that consumers keep buying.
Similarly, colonialism broke many institutions of African societies only to later return a bastardized form of those institutions to the same African societies.
And sure enough, the publishers are the ones going laughing to the bank. A new system means new books, which means publishers writing supposedly new material. And when the material becomes problematic, the Education CS appoints a white Kenyan businessman, a business lecturer and a few other cronies to a task force that examines the faults in the new material. The taskforce has not a single educationist.
It just happens that a time comes to make money.
Suspended in time
But what makes this idea of time more disturbing is the idea of a future which Africans are external to, for which African have to aspire, and which Africans can never reach. Paradoxically though, that does not mean that Africans are considered as stuck in the past. In addition to forcing Africans to always look to a future that is defined as synonymous with Europe’s present, white supremacy does not allow us to look at the present or the past either. The power of Euro-centric capitalism lies in keeping African states constantly looking ahead, and not turning our heads to look at our present or our past, because if we did, we would be less accepting of the future that is being sold to us.
So when we ask about the excesses of the present, we are told to look at the future, which is often called “development.” And when we mention our past achievements, we're accused of romanticizing Africa. When we mention our colonial past, we're told that we are blaming all problems on white people. It is as if Africans are suspended from time.
Indeed, the idea of this external future was expounded on by fellow panelist Dr Anne Assey who followed Dr. Jwan’s comments by saying: “I think the curriculum will equip learners for the future…We’re looking at the fourth industrial revolution. If we do not move in the right [direction], we may not get it [the revolution].”
This commodity of the fourth industrial revolution, or whether we should aspire for it, was never explained. Initially, the future seemed to be defined as educational determinism, that is, entering school system as a four-year old, knowing you would be a lawyer and training for that from start to finish. Later in the program, panelists talked of careers in music or in social media being part of the future that children would prepare for in the new system.
Again, that argument runs into a problem: it assumes that Kenyans are not already doing innovative things in the present, and that is the government’s job to bring the future from Europe into the Kenyan classroom. Yet, the future they are talking about has already happened! It has been done by Kenyans! And this without being trained for it. Kenya already has artists earning from their craft. It also has a dynamic run with social media, something that has been captured in international media, and by Najala Nabola in her recently released book Digital Democracy, Analogue Politics: How the Internet Is Transforming Politics in Africa.
Like any human being, Kenyans ARE doing amazing things without the government holding our hands. We are working in labs abroad to come up with new medicines. We are writing books and performing musicals on Broadway. We are interviewed in foreign media because we are thought leaders. We are breaking marathon world records. We are already achieving great things that need to be integrated in the school system by TEACHERS, through field trips, activities, festivals, guest speakers, etc, not through mummy government telling us "now my dears, it's time to change."
We are already in the "future." It's the government that is behind. But as I often say, the fundamental problem of all Kenyan governments, from colonialism till today, is that they don't see us. To the political class, Kenya is a country of no people.
The future comes organically from people' it's not imposed by government
Syokimau’s predictions were more accurate than any statistical or scientific prediction tool. The community always consulted her in all aspects, and she could give guidance based on the future outcomes. Her herbal medicine would cure all illnesses. It is said that she received revelations about herbal treatments in her dreams. In the morning, she would go into the fields to look for the herbs. Anyone who used the herbs got a miraculous cure!
Indeed, Olufemi Taiwo reminded us many years ago that Frantz Fanon, through his classic The Wretched of the Earth, was another seer who foretold of the disappointments of independence.
But because this government does not listen to its own people, does not consult Africa’s sages, it is unable to gauge what the people are foreseeing through their thought and action. As Gyekye Tanoh said at the just concluded All African People’s conference in Ghana, one of the defining characteristics of neoliberalism in Africa is that African governments continue to alienate Africans themselves from formulation of policy and the reform of its institutions.
Our education system didn't need replacement. It needed to stop being suffocated by government administrators who only sit in offices and look to the West for ideas. All we need is for our teachers to just keep being empowered to be creative in the classroom and relate ordinary examples to what they are teaching. Our teachers need to be liberated from extreme regulation imposed by performance management. The education system needs to be supported by vibrant cultural spaces: festivals, science fairs, museums and libraries in all counties. All this does not require a system replacement.
But instead of opening the windows for fresh air, KICD has moved us into a different room with even less windows that are more tightly shut. The system is still about controlling the Kenyan population in the interests of the status quo, while promising Kenyans that the new system is new.
And in classic shock doctrine, Kenyans will be misled into thinking that their discomfort comes from adjusting to change, rather than from running around in the same colonialist education circles.
If those of us who were the last A level and the first 8-4-4 years can remember how our lives felt destabilized by the transition, for many years, we can then imagine how it will be for children entering the new system. The children will always be guinea pigs. They will never settle.
And actually, this disruption is precisely the point of the new education system. The point is to prevent us from growing roots deep enough for another Syokimau to emerge, or from hearkening to the call of the Sankofa bird to go back to the past as we walk into our future. Because a future which is organically predicted by the African people, from outside the state, is a threat to the Euro-American capitalist status quo and its African managers.