Q. Do you see any good in the new education system? What good?
A. I get asked this question a lot. It comes from the way Kenyans have been taught to think in binaries. For every national project, we are expected to talk about the strengths and weaknesses, or the advantages and disadvantages.
So this reasoning makes us, the users of education, bear the burden of making our education system work, instead of that burden remaining on the shoulders of government and the designers of the education system.
The issue therefore isn’t whether I am “positive” or whether there is any good in the CBC. The real question is: “do I consider the education system SUITABLE for the people it’s designed for, or for the needs that we have?
My answer is an NO.
Fast food education
The short answer of my issue with the Competency Based approach is that it is designed for adults, and specifically for workers; not for children. CBC is like the fast food of education – it is the education you want when you need adults to get skills for the workplace. And just like fast food does not provide the nutrition a child needs to grow, CBC will not provide the intellectual knowledge and develop the human abilities that children need for the skills and knowledge that they will acquire as they grow older. And just like fast food becomes unhealthy if eaten regularly, an education system dominated by the competency-based approach will make students rigid and unable to think broadly and creatively.
Think of CBC as what I am doing with you here right now. The knowledge and experience from which I am speaking to you about education comes from over 30 years of learning and teaching. I have to cram that into a 40-minute presentation right now. So I have to pick the basics so that I leave you “competent” to write skits about education.
You, my learners, also come with your combined experience and skills. You come from different backgrounds and communities and are bringing that synergy here. Your main career is not education. You are creatives and artists, but you need to learn enough about education to “competently” write about it. Also, you are adults. You have already built your physical abilities like walking, intellectual skills like thinking and writing, and social skills like speaking and collaborating with each other. When I come here to speak to you, I am therefore assuming that you have already developed those human abilities and creative skills.
That is how CBC works. CBC assumes that adults have already acquired certain human abilities of cultural identity, values, communication and social skills, and all CBC is doing is giving workers tools for the work place. It is therefore used in Europe, for example, in government programs for refugee and immigrant communities who need to be integrated into the community as fast as possible with skills they can use to earn a living.
Now imagine this. These assumptions I am making about you, a teacher now has to make about children. CBC now demands skills from children that require a certain backend of thinking, speaking, physical movement, to have developed enough in a child to produce those abilities. But we all know that children have not completely developed their speaking, movement, thinking and other basic human abilities. A good education system, therefore, is supposed to supplement the home in developing those abilities. Instead, CBC is saying that children have to develop those skills elsewhere, and then come to class to use those abilities to produce certain skills useful for government or employment goals.
But the role of a government that cares about its people is to be aware that not all children will come with the same abilities. Kids will come with different languages. Some will have developmental challenges, and others will simply be hungry. So one of the reasons why I have opposed CBC is because of its assumption that every child has the same backend to perform the skills that the government requires at the end of the class. And when these differences are tied to poverty, like lack of food or access to the internet, then basically the government is ignoring and entrenching inequality from childhood.
For education to be a social leveller, we need to deal with that back end. We need everything from feeding programs, to reading material, to internet access, so as to bring children to a decently equal starting point. But, as is typical of government, they have behaved like Pontius Pilate and washed their hands off the responsibility for these weaknesses in CBC. They have done so in four ways.
- They have plastered a values curriculum independent of what is happening in class. That means that concepts like critical thinking and collaboration are not embedded in the subjects and teaching activities, but are taught as topics on their own. Adding a value curriculum separate from the skills curriculum is like the coleslaw or kachumbari that is served alongside a chips and fried chicken meal. The vegetables don’t make the fried food any healthier.
- They have introduced “parental involvement.” Parents are expected to make up for the deficit of the curriculum, such provision of digital access and materials for assignments. For children who won’t have the necessary background or resources to achieve the goals in the curriculum, whether social or biological, the government will say that the problem is the parents who are not raising their children properly.
- There is the “talent pathway.” For kids who will not have access to resources, or who are developmentally challenged, KICD is already saying that that child can become an artist or a sports person. But this simplistic view of arts presents two problems. One, it disrespects the arts as a skill and as work, and instead portrays the arts as something anyone can do without much knowledge, skill, time or resources. There is a racist background to this view of Africans as naturally artistic, but also an element of devaluing art work so that people don’t have to pay artists for the work they do. Kenyan artists must push back against this ideology if they are to get decently paid for their work.
This disrespect explains KICD’s dubious examples of the benefit of the talent pathway. For example, the CEO director Dr. Jwan recently said that a child in Tana River, with no access to computers to learn coding, could become a DJ. But if DJ-ing requires equipment, how would a child without access to electricity and computers suddenly have access to a soundboard, speakers and microphones? Secondly, does a community struggling to get water from crocodile-infested rivers have the resources to pay for the services of a DJ?
The other problem with the “talent” pathway is that we have not fixed the creative and artistic economy for artists to earn a decent living from their work. Several artists report having given up on their arts and returning to fulltime employment because the economy always looks for excuses not to pay artists for their work. After all, they are just “talented.”
And there is no honor in the arts. We do not honor our artists, there are few institutions or awards named after them, and as we are now seeing in Morocco, Kenyans who represent the country in cultural events go without accommodation, while there are resources for a huge number of MPs to visit the US to listen to Dolly Parton. Yet MCSK declares that a musician receiving 2,500 shillings for their work should be grateful.
- The fourth exit plan, which I don’t think is off the table, is technology. Instead of employing and training more qualified teachers who can mitigate these issues in the classroom, the government had hoped to provide tablets, so that children without teachers, or in huge classes with a single teacher, could learn from tablets. That was the fantasy behind the laptop project.
With parental involvement, a second, more sinister thing, is happening with CBC. The government is intruding into in our private lives, and it is fragmenting our consciousness.
Let me explain with an example of something I saw in the curriculum designs about jumping.
Now, when you jump with your kids, it's supposed to be spontaneous. Maybe you're playing a game. If it's a class, and you're the teacher, you want your kids to have fun as they learn. If it's sports, you want to teach a particular skill. If it's with music, you want to teach dance. If it's at home, you want to have fun and bond with your kids. The point is that you don't analyze the techniques and purposes of jumping, unless you are in a kinetics or physical therapy class at university.
But if you look at this picture, you will see that KICD has spoiled the fun.
And that's the violence of CBC. CBC fragments the human being into useless pieces that mean nothing on their own, and make you forget the bigger picture - the fun, human interaction and celebration. As Nabwire Maloba remarked on facebook, this vew of jumping is "the GMO version of games, so sterile and so dead."
Q. Is CBC better than 8.4.4. Or worse? If better, what are the disappointing aspects that have raised so much opposition?
A. Once again, these questions treat education systems like commodities, based on the binary logic I’ve already mentioned. It’s like asking: “should I buy a PC or a Mac?,” then requiring me to list the advantages and disadvantages of CBC, then list the advantages and disadvantages of 8.4.4, and recommend the best product.
But education does not work like that. To blame education problems on 8.4.4 or CBC is like telling someone that you were not able to attend an event because your shoes prevented you from doing so. You are the wearer of the shoes, it’s not the shoes that wear you. So the problems of our education are not about 8.4.4. and cannot be solved by CBC.
For instance, one of the biggest and most fundamental problems of our education, since colonial times, is the reason why we educate. From the days of Lord Delamere, education has been only for training a workforce to make money for people besides ourselves. So basically, people in Kenya get educated for others – for exams, then for jobs, then for prestige – but never learn for themselves. We cram in exams because it doesn’t matter what we think or who we are – what matters is that we beat other people and get ahead of the rat race. The government is therefore misleading the public when it says that the curriculum can solve exam cheating, especially when all other social factors like unemployment, poverty, few opportunities, and a culture of hypocrisy remain constant.
For me, it doesn’t matter how many years you put in every level of school. What matters is this:
- Why are we educating? If we educate for jobs, we will remain with the dehumanizing education we have now. People will still cram to pass exams so that they can get jobs; they won’t learn because of whom they can be or what they can know and do.
- Do our teachers have enough resources to be creative in class? Good teachers require not just pens and books, but access to internet and professional advancement, and opportunities to share ideas with other teachers on how to better deliver content. They need to be decently paid, and the intrinsic satisfaction we get from teaching needs to be honoured.
- Do our children have enough resources to enjoy learning? This means not just textbooks but also internet, paints, playing fields, resources for school trips, as well as sports facilities, libraries, museums and festivals.
Whether you have 8.4.4 or CBC, these are the fundamental issues which have not, and still are not addressed by CBC. What we fundamentally need is a better government, a government that cares for people and sees their education as a space for citizens to flourish, create and collaborate, and then creates an education that facilitates that. Instead, we have a government whose default assumption is that we are instruments to make money for others and therefore, we need to be controlled by the state for the maximum profit of the 1 per cent. That’s why our education system is so abusive.
Q. What are the implementation loopholes so far?
A. The mainstream media uses the implementation angle to support the government in imposing the CBC. Reducing the problems of CBC to implementation is basically to shut down the public conversation in two aspects:
- Since the government has the most resources, people with no resources to educate an entire country, which means all of us, should basically shut up. And you will notice that when the implementation question is asked, Ministry of Education officials mention huge sums of money and huge numbers of textbooks, which says nothing about whether the textbooks are good, available or even necessary.
- We shut down the aspects of the historical, political and social problems with CBC as a teaching approach. The government can shut us up by saying the system is good, it’s only a problem of resources, which again, the government dominates.
The point of implementation also doesn’t arise when the system is half baked. The system did not go through basic processes like pilot review, planning of how the schools will be reordered or how the assessments would be done. All those issues were supposed to have been completed, with the supporting documents produced, before the system was rolled out.
In conclusion, the problem with the competency-based curriculum is not an implementation problem; it’s a construction one. But I know the people of Kenya. People will invent remedies to make up for the deficits of CBC, through music or arts lessons outside the school system, or through holiday schools or home libraries. The problem, however, is that the people who will afford these remedies will be very few. These remedies will be private solutions to a public problem.
The fundamental problem with our education is that we have a government with no imagination. We cannot solve our education problems until we replace this government with leaders who are dynamic and are willing to accommodate and support fresh ideas.