Kenya banks on new curriculum in 4IR push

Qayyum Shiraz, chief technology officer of Qbyte Africa explains to an attendee how the robots work at the Sarit Expo Centre in Westlands on April 2, 2022. PHOTO/ FAUSTINE NGILA

Kenya is banking on its nascent Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) to storm the world of the fourth industrial revolution with class and finesse. 

The CBC is the country’s new education system. It is poised to replace the 8-4-4 education system that has been in effect since 1985. The former focuses on a learner’s adventure and innovativeness, while the latter emphasises a student’s memory of theoretical lessons.

This is even as the East African economic powerhouse contends with critics from within, who are strongly opposed to the rolling out of the curriculum, which is one of President Kenyatta’s key legacy projects, and the most outstanding in the education sector.

Technocrats and academic professionals, in a united front, to win over the public into embracing the new education model, argue that the 50 million people-strong nation that prides itself on being referred to as the Silicon Valley of Africa is lagging behind time. While others dole out love and kindness in various fora to persuade the various education stakeholders to join the government in this agenda, others are being candid as they mince no words.

“Aren’t we ashamed that we are the only country in the world, keeping children in primary school for more than eight years, at this age?”  Professor Charles Ochieng asked the Kenya secondary school heads Thursday. The school principals were attending a weeklong conference at the port city of Mombasa.

Prof Ochieng was the keynote speaker on Thursday. He was addressing the role of the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) in ensuring junior secondary schools’ compliance with the CBC.

The first junior secondary school class will be admitted in January next year. The current grade five pupils, who will next term (that starts 25th April) join grade six will sit their national primary CBC exam in November, before joining junior secondary the following year.

Professor Charles Ochieng, the chief executive officer of the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development said that the government needed to introduce the CBC learning module due to the changes that were sweeping through the world.

“You will be surprised to learn that what we as a country are having as our future was achieved by some countries in the 20th century. Kenya is playing catch-up, and we should embrace this programme,” he said. 

According to the research done by the World Bank on Sub-Saharan Africa, Prof Ochieng said, secondary school education is the most critical phase of education in a learner’s journey. He said secondary school teachers had a critical role in ensuring the success of CBC, because, he argued, students in secondary school are the most receptive to adventures and innovations.

Prof Ochieng said the world is becoming industrialised and the learners should be prepared for the future.

“In the next 10 to 20 years, all the jobs will probably go online, some will be obsolete, and the rest purely fieldwork. At KICD, we are already conceptualising a virtual laboratory. We won’t need the physical laboratories for learning and experimenting,” he said. 

KICD has also approved coding classes for the Kenyan primary and secondary schools.

The classes shall be offered by Kodris Africa, an online publishing firm that specialises in equipping learners with 21st-century skills such as creative problem solving and algorithmic thinking right from the elementary level.

Kenya is the first African country to approve this kind of syllabus.

The KICD boss also asked the teachers to teach learners about communication and collaboration skills, saying they are the sought after skills by employers currently and in the future. 

Meanwhile, Dr Jamleck Muturi, the chairperson of the Teachers’ Service Commission, the employer of state teachers in Kenya,  asked the school heads to encourage their colleagues to undergo the Teacher Professional Development (TPD) programme, to be better equipped to teach the current generation of students, who are so much informed and technology literate.

“The world is embracing the fourth industrial revolution, and the future of work is geared toward robotics, quantum computing, the internet of things and 3D printing. We can’t keep on teaching using the old techniques and address these issues,” Muturi said.

Earlier on Wednesday, the country’s University Education and Research Principal Secretary,  Ambassador Simon Nabukwesi announced that the 

Kenya Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) will open doors to its first cohort of students in June this year.

The University was designed after the  Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, the initial science and Technology University in Korea which promote technical training for economic growth.  Kenya is looking forward to using the university to build robust technology experts, who will engineer the country’s digital transformation and economic growth.

The former Kenya High Commissioner to Canada, while speaking at this year’s Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Conference, drew parallels and comparisons with South Korea.  

“In 1994, South Korea’s economy was lower than Kenya’s,” he said. 

“But the moment they established the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, almost everything changed because the University put them at the technological front, and they industrialised very fast.”

The Konza University of Technology will also admit students to pursue Masters and PhD degrees.

Nabukwesi said that the country should borrow good learning practices that are done in countries such as Canada, Cuba and Finland.

The countries, among other things, have fully implemented practical learning, which equips learners with practical and technical knowledge. For instance, Finland and Canada have collaborative learning, where experts in various fields go to school to teach some lessons and interact with learners, to encourage and guide them.

Professor Fatuma Chege,  the Principal Secretary (PS)  in charge of the State Department for Implementation of Curriculum Reforms says the new curriculum will allow learners to perfect what they love, without being pushed.

The education PS said that CBC will dispel the tension that came with students sitting national exams under the watch of serious-looking security officers. Instead, the former high school teacher said, learners under CBC will be assessed regularly as they learn in class and the field, and their results get uploaded to a national portal managed by the Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC). 

The curriculum, she adds, is the central pillar of Vision 2030, Kenya’s industrial revolution and transformation blueprint.

The Commission for University Education (CUE) in Kenya is also part of the curriculum shapers, and the country’s public and private university vice-Chancellors are well aware of the developments. In reaction to some sections of the public’s resistance to the curriculum, Prof Chege said that universities can’t be in a dilemma of how they should handle innovative students.

“The government used human resources from universities to develop the curriculum. Universities should not also complain about this issue, because all over the world, their role is to provide solutions. Be proactive,” Professor Chege said.

Pre-primary and primary school pupils’ parents have complained that the new education model overloads the learners. This, PS Chege says, is a lie. The traditional 8-4-4 education system, she says, is the model which has been overloading learners with unnecessary work.

She uses the analogy of manual and automatic vehicles to explain the concept

“While driving a manual car, you struggle a lot. However, with an automatic car, the car helps you to drive. You enjoy driving.” 

The 8-4-4 education curriculum stresses learning by rote, where a learner is graded based on how much class content they can remember in an exam. It places stress on one scoring good grades and proceeding to University.

Whereas it is good for one to achieve good grades and go to university, Prof Chege says that scoring an  A and going through university is not and should not be made to be the standard measure of success. This, she says, is what CBC has come to demystify.

“We keep on telling our students that they should all score grade A and go to university yet we know that that is not possible. They will succeed in life at various stages, without necessarily going to university,” she said.

The curriculum’s first junior secondary class will be admitted in January 2023, and it will offer at least two of the three clusters of subjects: STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics),  humanities and arts, sports and creatives. 

The state Department of Basic Education has formed a sub-transition committee at the school level to guide and coordinate the curriculum reforms and transitions.

Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s president lauded the teaching fraternity for being innovative and bracing for the Covid-19 pandemic to teach. When Kenya closed schools in March 2020, as a containment measure to curb the spread of coronavirus, teachers started teaching via technology. Others transmitted lessons via WhatsApp, others through radio, and  TV and others adopted homeschooling. 

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