29 November 2022
Kenya: lessons learned. What should we pay attention to while introducing the education reform
In 2015, Kenya began introducing a new holistic and interdisciplinary curriculum. Its premise – to raise a generation that will meet the expectations of the future world – is inspiring and broadly in line with that of the Holistic Think Tank. However, seven years of Kenyan experience also shows us mistakes that can arise implementing even the best-intended reform. Key lessons are worth noticing.
An ambitious goal
Kenyan education reform aims to change from a content-oriented to a competency-based curriculum (CBC) and is part of the long-term “Kenya Vision 2030” program. The goal is ambitious: to transform Kenya into a middle-income country by 2030, providing all citizens with a high quality of life in a clean and safe environment.
As for the schooling itself, CBC assumes equipping learners with competencies to become engaged, empowered, and ethical citizens. The reform involves not only modifying the curriculum but changing the entire paradigm of thinking about education. The traditional teaching model has been recognized as inadequate to educate modern Kenyans able to contribute positively to their own life and that of their local and global community. CBC implies that learners can acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes to solve situations they encounter in everyday life.
CBC curriculum is learner-centered and adaptive to the changing needs of students, teachers, and society. It assumes that learners can acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes to solve situations they encounter in everyday life. The CBC approach is holistic and interdisciplinary; it incorporates the concept that Kenyan students should acquire competencies in seven key areas during their school education: communication and collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving, imagination and creativity, citizenship, learning to learn, self-efficacy, and digital literacy.
It is significant that the above competencies broadly match those in the What School Ought To Teach (WSOT) list, developed by the Holistic Think Tank experts as the necessary basis for the design and introduction of the Interdisciplinary Subject (IDS). Thus lessons learned from the Kenyan curriculum implementation may illuminate challenges in similar endeavors worldwide, including the one in that HTT is working on. It is, therefore, worth analyzing the difficulties faced by Kenyans in order to draw appropriate conclusions.
Challenge 1: How to prepare teachers?
CBC involves learner-centered teaching methods like role plays, discussion, problem-solving, projects, case studies, and study visits. In using such methods, educators’ role changes to an expert, facilitator, coach, and mentor who guides the learning process. We can already expect that the role of the teacher in schools with IDS implemented will be transformed in a very similar way.
Regrettably, early studies and surveys indicate that Kenyan teachers are still unready to implement the new curriculum effectively, despite the initial training they underwent.¹ The significant omission was the lack of sufficient training that could show teachers how to translate the curriculum into viable CBC classroom practice. As a result, teachers – already overburdened – saw, e.g. preparing lesson plans as additional, not necessarily useful work that interferes with instructional time. Another inhibiting factor was the large classes, whose size made it difficult for teachers to provide engaging activities and necessary feedback.
Referring to the issue of teachers, however, it should be noted that the most important thing is their attitude. Educators, who transmit competencies, knowledge, and attitudes to students daily, must believe in the sense of change in order to become part of it. Changing their attitude is perhaps even more crucial than overcoming other (financial, time, or systemic) obstacles. To achieve this, it is necessary to invest in teachers’ training, treat them in the process as partners, and explain precisely where the change comes from and what benefits it can bring.
Challenge 2: How to empower parents?
Parents have a shared responsibility with schools to provide a favorable environment that motivates learners to fulfill their potential. Education changes should therefore occur with the participation and support of parents, who – although they don’t spend as much time at school as students or teachers – contribute to the school community.
This area was, however, neglected in the case of reform in Kenya. Most parents did not understand what CBC is about; expectations, learners’ assessment, grading, and others. They were simply left out of the process. This was a mistake that we could not replicate.
Thus there is a growing need for parents as stakeholders to be included in debates around curriculum change. More parental involvement through seeking out opportunities in their contexts to better understand the innovation could help reduce their own and their children’s uncertainties and anxieties.
Challenge 3: How to ensure equal opportunities for all?
CBC requires teachers’ regular informative feedback and engagement in reflective lessons, which flourish well in small classes. As mentioned, the reality in Kenya is the opposite. Furthermore, the infrastructure obstacle is more significant in rural and poor schools. Thus learners from impoverished areas are at a high risk of being left behind. The reason is not only due to the inaccessibility of proper learning spaces and facilities but also to parents facing social, economic, and geographic marginalization who are less able to support their children.
¹ Sifuna, D. N & Obonyo, M. M. (2019). Competency-Based Curriculum in Primary Schools in Kenya – Prospects and Challenges of Implementation. Journal of Popular Education in Africa. 3(7), 39 – 50; pdf-daniel-sifuna-mark-obonyo-competency-based-curriculum-in-primary-schools-in-kenyaprospects-