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Ongoing confusion on new curriculum will lead to a debacle, here’s how to fix it



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President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive in December last year that the Ministry of Education implement’s the competency-based curriculum (CBC) in early childhood development centres and grades 1, 2, and 3 contradicted a recommendation by an evaluation team led by Prof Laban Ayiro.

Prof Ayiro’s recommendation had been accepted by the Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed, who had postponed the implementation of the CBC by one year until the issues raised are addressed. So far, there has been no summative evaluation of the pilot phase of the CBC.

Overruling the CS, as the President did, means that the curriculum is being implemented in a rush before the ministry is ready for it. Further worrying is that it paints Amina and the ministry as groping in the dark, with the reversal having portrayed her as a flip-flopper.

The current primary school curriculum was implemented in January 1986 after a summative evaluation and a serious of discussions of the evaluation report. I give credit to the respected educationists Herbert Kanina, James Kamunge, and Dr Gilbert Oluoch for leading the curriculum reform processes. Credit should be given to former Presidents Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Arap Moi for giving curriculum developers and evaluators a freehand to do the right thing.

Following the implementation of the current curriculum, Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) was expected to reform it many years ago, but this did not happen.

It is the reason that the clamour for a new curriculum gained momentum over the years leading to the coming up of CBC. But it is unfortunate that the only reason CBC framework was adopted is to implement Unicef’s advice to East African Community countries. Research on implementation of CBC in Tanzania shows that it is appropriate for technical and vocational training, but inappropriate for education.

What often leads the supporters and defenders of CBC framework astray is their addiction to development of skills for self-reliance and employment. The current curriculum initially aimed at achieving that but during the pilot phase, it was discovered that the goal was not realistic. Consequently, the goal was changed to making learners trainable. The performance of students in technical and vocational training institutions clearly shows that the goal has been achieved.

Questions are being asked openly about why piloting of CBC was done if the intention was to implement the curriculum before conducting summative evaluation. Piloting a curriculum is the gold standard of curriculum development. It is an experiment in which:

1. Several schools are selected, preferably randomly;

2. Schools are randomly divided into two groups: experimental or pilot schools, and control schools;

3. Achievement tests and other evaluation instruments are administered to students. Other instruments are administered to key stakeholders;

4. Pilot schools implement the new curriculum while control schools continue with the existing curriculum;

5. Formative evaluation is conducted by curriculum developers and quality and standards officers;

6. Internal summative evaluation is conducted;

7. External summative evaluation is conducted by respected people who were not involved in the development of the curriculum. The purpose of external summative evaluation is to determine the effect of the new curriculum. During this stage, differences between pre-test and post-test scores of pilot and control school pupils are compared. Other factors such as quality of the curriculum, relevance of the curriculum, cost-effectiveness, cost-benefit, and sustainability of the project are also evaluated.

Thus, the debate about whether or not CBC should be implemented in all schools will only end when summative evaluation shows that it has more positive effects on learners and society than the current curriculum. As said earlier, the summative evaluation of the pilot phase of CBC has not been done. Yet, the Ministry of Education is under pressure from vested business interests, rent-seeking cartels, international agencies, and non-governmental organisations with hidden agenda, to implement the curriculum. Senior Ministry of Education officials should remember that curriculum reform should benefit society as a whole, not foreigners and vested business interests. While most of the above parties may be considered as legitimate stakeholders, the fulcrum of this process and the knowledge that matters most is that of competent professionals. Let the ministry be given space to do the right thing.

Implementation of the competency-based curriculum ranks among the biggest crises the education system has faced since independence. It could do a lot of harm to Kenyan children if not handled properly. The Ministry of Education is currently facing widespread criticism for hurried implementation of the curriculum. Now that a lot of public money has been paid to publishers and allegedly to rent-seeking cartels in government and international non-governmental organisations, the best solution to the crisis is to allow KICD staff and quality assurance and standards officers and other Ministry of Education staff to do their work professionally and in the interest of students and society.

I propose that they adopt the following five-pronged strategy:

1. Continued implementation of CBC in grade 1, 2, and 3 on a pilot basis in 2019 and 2020;

2. Formative and summative evaluation of the curriculum be done in 2019. Remember, a curriculum that is implemented without input from stakeholders is bound to fail; and,

3. Revision of the curriculum on the basis of formative and summative evaluation in 2019 and 2020. Summative evaluation teams should consist of representatives from Knut, Council of Governors, Kenya Parents Association, Kenya Primary Head Teachers Association, religious organisations, Employer Association, Society of Educational Research and Evaluation in Kenya, and other key stakeholders. They should be led by a highly educated, internationally recognised Kenyan academic with proven experience in conducting curriculum evaluation.

Ogula is a professor of education at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa and chairman, Society of Educational Research and Evaluation in Kenya email: [email protected]