By David Wandabi – Programs Officer – Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) & Eco-schools Coordinator

There have been mixed reactions towards the new Competency Based Curriculum (CBC) designed by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) and launched by the Ministry of Education in 2017. The CBC places emphasis on developing skills and knowledge and applying them to real life situations as opposed to content as it is under the 8-4-4 system.

Perhaps the biggest opponent of the CBC is the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT), which has been encouraging its members to shun the new curriculum. KNUT has argued that inadequate teacher training, poor infrastructure, lack of legal framework and huge budgetary implications are the reasons that the CBC should be out rightly rejected. This discussion has been gathering momentum even as Parliament approved Kshs.2.4 billion for implementation of the new system in May 2019.

However, some reports have indicated that the real reason behind KNUT’s hard stance is that the giant teachers’ union fears the CBC will dilute the role of teachers in teaching and learning processes. KNUT also argues that CBC reforms fit into the global education reforms movement modelled around huge business interests that are increasingly facing rejection worldwide. The union officials argue that by reducing teachers to mere facilitators of learning, children will be allowed to learn on their own, creating ‘artificial intelligence’ in education. 

But maybe we should take some time to reflect on the reason that necessitated the curriculum reforms as we try to interrogate claims that the CBC will put teachers at the periphery of teaching and learning process. 

The current 8-4-4 system of education was introduced in 1985 based on a guiding philosophy of “education for self-reliance‟. There have been recurring complaints that the education system has been producing graduates who are ill-prepared to fit into the world of work. Evaluations of the 8-4-4 system have revealed an overloaded curriculum, poorly equipped workshops to facilitate learning of practical skills, and poorly trained teachers. Therefore the graduates at secondary school level have not been acquiring adequate entrepreneurial skills for self-reliance. Apart from the high unemployment arising from this phenomenon, there has also been the increase in social vices such crime, drug abuse and antisocial behaviour.

These were driving factors that led stakeholders in the education sector to call for the introduction of a curriculum that would provide flexible education pathways for identifying and nurturing the talents and interests of learners early enough to prepare them for the world of work, career progression and sustainable development.

The CBC focuses on competencies as opposed to content under the 8-4-4 system. The system is flexible with opportunities for specialisation through various pathways and it balances between formative and summative assessments. Teachers will play a critical role in learning by students, with teacher training being an ongoing process rather than an event.

Therefore CBC provides an opportunity to nurture every learner’s potential through quality education. As a result, they will be enabled to contribute more meaningfully to the world around them – economically, culturally, socially and politically.

This is the ultimate goal of Education for Sustainable Development. Despite the widely understood role of education as a catalyst for building a better, more sustainable future for all, our basic education curriculum has been faulted of not fully preparing learners to meet a wide range of sustainable development challenges, whether we are talking about climate change, the loss of biodiversity and cultural diversity, or persistent poverty and social inequality.  

Sustainable development cannot be achieved by political agreements, financial incentives or technological solutions alone. It requires a wholesale change in the way we think and act – a rethink of how we relate to one another and how we interact with the ecosystems that support our lives and livelihoods. To create a world that is more just, more peaceful, and more sustainable, all individuals and societies must be equipped and empowered by knowledge, skills and values as well as heightened awareness to drive such change.  This is where education has a critical role to play. The design of the CBC is perfectly suited to ensure this is achieved. Just like the goal of Education for Sustainable Development, the CBC seeks to empower learners to take informed decisions and responsible actions for environmental integrity, economic viability and a just society for present and future generations, while respecting cultural diversity. Therefore there is need for KNUT and other stakeholders in the education sector to come to embrace the curriculum’s new direction, and work together to address key concerns, for the sake of our children and their future. 

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