In Summary
  • In the absence of proper methodological support to teachers and lack of clear relevant theoretical framework guiding the conception of curricula.
  • Curriculum development involves negotiations and consensus building and should not be a one-man show. To register success, leadership is vital.

  • Good leadership would ensure that efforts are coordinated and new directions set through learning, information gathering and dialogue.

The debate on the competency-based curriculum (CBC), which is being rolled out, calls for a sober analysis of the situation with focus on four fundamental questions.

First, what is the need for reforming the curriculum? And what informed the shift from 8-4-4 to CBC?

EMPOWERED

The 8-4-4 system has been faulted for not catering for changing societal demands, gaps that the much-hyped CBC is expected to seal.

The guiding philosophy of the 8-4-4 curriculum was “education for self-reliance”. It was expected to equip learners with employable skills, enabling dropouts at all levels to be either self-employed or to secure jobs in the informal sector.

Although 8-4-4 allowed for more options in technical and vocational subjects, it, however, experienced serious shortages of essential resources and facilities, leading to its becoming theory-oriented. The CBC is, however, designed to make a learner engaged, empowered and an ethical citizen.

However, comparison of the intentions of the two systems shows several parallels in terms of the expected outcomes, the main one being that both seek to empower the learner. That requires adequate resources and, therefore, CBC could face the same pitfalls as 8-4-4.

It’s also worth noting that failures in 8-4-4 are not inherent in the curriculum but in the mode of implementation.

Secondly, is there a proper legal and theoretical foundation to support CBC?

Theory in educational reform is important as it supports conceptualisation; it informs methodology and underpins analysis and interpretation. A curriculum founded on a wrong premise is likely to backfire.

ANALYSIS

One hidden reason why preferred educational reform has been hard to realise in Kenya is that citizens, policymakers and education stakeholders do not satisfactorily agree on what they want from our education system.

To solve educational problems is not a matter of finding the right means to an end as most policymakers would want us to imagine; there is a need to articulate a basis for agreement on a substantive opinion by formulating a theory.

Looking at CBC as proposed and documented, it is very difficult to tell the rallying theory behind it — and this is probably the source of the confusion we are witnessing.

Thirdly, were all the prescribed steps in the development of a curriculum followed? And can these steps be validated? Curriculum development has a number of steps, which include needs analysis, curriculum design, piloting and implementation.

An analysis of content in the needs assessment report by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) indicates shocking revelations. The criteria set for needs analysis, as well as the instrument used in the process, was faulty.

If this simple and important step was not done right in the new system, then what else was?

The piloting of CBC is also questionable. It should have been comprehensive enough to capture all the levels that the curriculum is envisaged to cover.

CONSENSUS

These glaring flaws are scaring, to say the least, and is an indicator that all is not well. A curriculum design can only remedy educational problems if it’s based on a thorough diagnosis, on appropriate research and on positive and relevant practical experience.

The fourth question relates to whether the country is ready for implementation of CBC, based on teachers’ preparedness and provision of the requisite resources.

Preparing teachers for CBC is not as easy as said. CBC requires a paradigm shift in terms of pedagogies. It requires innovative pedagogical approaches: Teachers are expected to demonstrate competencies in assessment and be self- reflective, self-improving and supportive learners themselves. Therefore, a one-week orientation may not be sufficient.

Further, the trainers are struggling to understand the concept of CBC. Besides, shortage of teachers compounds the problem since, in a CBC class, a teacher is expected to handle a small group.

In the absence of proper methodological support to teachers and lack of clear relevant theoretical framework guiding the conception of curricula, Kenya may not be ready for the new system.

Curriculum development involves negotiations and consensus building and should not be a one-man show. To register success, leadership is vital.

Good leadership would ensure that efforts are coordinated and new directions set through learning, information gathering and dialogue, rather than administrative regulation and hierarchical control.

Dr Barchok, the deputy governor of Bomet County, is a curriculum expert. barchokhillary@yahoo.com