Education reforms should address basics: financing, relevance & coordination

Deputy President, William Ruto addressing education reforms task force at KICC recently
Deputy President, William Ruto addressing education reforms task force at KICC recently

Since independence, Kenya has constituted six commissions and several task forces to look into the education system.  The 1st overhaul of the curriculum happened in 1984, leading to adoption of 8 -4-4 from the defunct 7-4-2-3 system, described as a sham by educationists.

Adoption of 8-4-4 was touted as a game-changer, aimed at offering learners with pre-vocational skills and technical education. The “intention” was to produce self-reliant learners ready for the global market.  Two years after 8-4-4 adoption, education pundits started accusing the system as being too expensive, loaded and teacher centric.

Education financing

Cost is a major hurdle for the success of Prof. Douglas Odhiambo’s task force proposed 2-6-3-3-3 system.  The recommended new structure of education is expected to cost Sh362 billion per year. In 1966, the government organized the “Kericho Conference” aimed at reviewing both the Ominde Commission report and the Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965.  Ominde report has a lot of similarity with Odhiambo’s proposal. The similarities are; junior and senior secondary, focus on talents, and emphasis on provision of technical and vocational skills. The Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965, viewed education as a solution to unemployment.

Kericho Conference gains were eroded by the Gachathi Commission Report of 1976.  Gachathi team was formed with an objective of reducing education financing from 15% to 7%.  The erosion caused the government to initiate another curriculum reforms, led by the Canadian educationist Prof. McKay 1981, which introduced 8-4-4 in 1984.

The 8-4-4‘s catch was integration of technical and vocational skills with academic subjects. It failed because its success was dependent on establishment of workshops, fully equipped science labs, training technical teachers; and transformation of pedagogy, from teacher-centric, to learner-centric.  Financing was a key impediment to its success.

In 1988, the government formed Kamunge Commission to look into education financing, quality and relevance to the country’s objectives. The Kamunge team formation was motivated by the rising burden, to finance the newly adopted 8-4-4 system, which required heavy investment in infrastructure to operationalize. Kamunge commission recommended cost-sharing, as a measure to mitigate the cost burden.

Educationists criticized the cost-sharing concept, and described it as an impediment to achieving MDG number two, “universal access to basic education for all”.  To mitigate the problem, vocational subjects were axed from both primary and secondary levels in 2002 to reduce the cost.  The problem Kericho Conference and Prof. McKay’s team were attempting to solve was reintroduced. The 8-4-4 intention “pre-vocational skills and technical education” was maimed.

Prof. Douglas Odhiambo led task force on education listening to a presentation in the recently concluded Curriculum reforms at KICC
Prof. Douglas Odhiambo led task force on education listening to a presentation in the recently concluded Curriculum reforms at KICC

Relevance

Prof. Douglas Odhiambo’s task force accuses the current 8-4-4 pedagogy, as being teacher centric, prompting and glorifying cramming at the expense of everything else.  This pedagogy is what Uwezo Kenya country coordinator John Mugo calls “examination based system, which determines what children learn”. Odhiambo’s 2-6-3-3-3 system proposes a shift from teacher centric to a learner’s centric pedagogy; where learning activities focus is on learner’s participation with the teacher as a guide.

The Kericho conference recommended establishment of village polytechnics, creation of sufficient technical skills at village level in marketing and production, reforming the curriculum to cater for vocational education, primary schools to be centers of identifying and developing hidden talents, converting  harambee schools to vocational training centers and most important, primary schools to prepare learners to successfully enter into satisfactory life of work and continue education through less formal means.

Kericho Conference introduced another key aspect of education in the society; “relevance”.  Employers in Kenya have accused academic institutions for producing half-baked graduates, unable to fit within their systems. Both Koech and Odhiambo commissions were established to deal with this problem.  Koech recommended Totally Integrated Quality Education and Training (TIQET), while Odhiambo’s 2-6-3-3-3 system, heavily borrows from the Kericho Conference.

TIQET recommended merging primary and secondary levels and scraping Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams.  TIQET also wanted to solve the both “loaded” and pedagogy problem.  He proposed reduction of subjects offered at secondary level, and introduction of pre-university to prepare secondary learners for university education. TIQET proposed expansion of secondary syllabus, to accommodate talents, technical training and entrepreneurship. The aim was opening more opportunities for continuing education, as opposed to 8-4-4’s exam-based method of determining transition from one level to another.

Odhiambo has also attempted to solve the relevance problem through classification of secondary schools.  In his 2-6-3-3-3 system, emphasis is directed to the learner not the teacher. This learner centric method of delivery is similar to what the Kericho Conference envisaged. Other similarities include talent search and development; focus on technical and vocational subjects at basic education level and inclusion of Early Childhood Development (ECD) in the government education policy. Koech shared the same thinking.

Coordination

Odhiambo, Koech and Gachathi reports, pointed at another area of concerned, to the education problem in Kenya, coordination.  Gachathi pointed at coordination as a major problem facing education sector in Kenya, and proposed creation of a grand legal framework to streamline the sector.  His recommendations were partly adopted, and led to the formation of Kenya National Examination Council (KNEC) and Commission for Higher Education.  But the coordination problem still remains.

Almost each government ministry has technical/vocational training institute. Each develops and implements their curriculum independently. There is no standard ECD syllabus, both for Teachers Training Colleges (TTC) and ECD schools. Equally, there is no standard curriculum for middle level colleges and village polytechnics. This has left these institutions to decide to follow the British City and Guilds, Association of Business Executives (ABE), Montessori etc.

At both primary and secondary level, the situation is the same. Some schools follow the British system while others follow 8-4-4. In a nutshell, there is no coordination in the education sector in Kenya.

For the country to realize any meaningful reforms in the education sector, the players should focus on three key areas, Financing, relevance, and coordination.  The three areas were fully covered by both Ominde and Koech commissions.  Odhiambo has also pointed at exactly the same, but the common denominator for all, is financing, which acts as an engine to propel the other two.

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