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Monday, April 4, 2016

The problems is quality of teaching, not curriculum

Last week the great and the good of this great land converged in Nairobi to talk about how our children are educated. A conversation about our education is nearly two decades late. We must all be delighted that we now have a real chance to prepare our children for the future.

We all now appreciate in this competitive, post-knowledge global economy primacy will belong to societies with the best-educated population. As far as we know today, innovation and creativity, critical thinking and analytical reasoning, communication and teamwork are the attributes that will underwrite individual flourishing and national prosperity. Moreover, the delivery mechanism of education, the curriculum, must be adaptive and nimble, not dogmatic and onerous.

The spirit and intent of the Kenya’s curriculum reform is both encouraging and laudable. When he spoke at Kibabii University last year, President Kenyatta pledged that the new curriculum would make education relevant to the lives of the learners. When he officiated at the curriculum conference last week, Deputy President William Ruto said the new curriculum would be responsive to market needs. In his impassioned remarks the head of Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, Dr. Julius Jwan, reassured the public that the new curriculum would be focused on developing critical knowledge, skills and attitudes. This would be a fundamental and welcome departure from the current emphasis on rote learning and regurgitation.

I have argued in this column that in the 21st century, a high school education must be the birthright of every child born in this country, not a privilege of the well to do few. I am delighted that the proposed curriculum allows all children to transition from primary to secondary school. Moreover, assessments will be formative to evaluate learning achievement rather, as opposed to the current system of national standardized tests, which privilege rote learning and incentivize cheating.

I have a good feeling about the direction our curriculum is taking. I am especially delighted that the focus on learning is unequivocal. The raison d’etre or the sole purpose of the curriculum is enable learners acquire knowledge, skills and attitudes that will enable them to thrive and flourish in a competitive globalized world. The curriculum intends that education is about knowledge learning and application of knowledge. The emphasis on numeracy, reading and writing in the early school years is especially laudable.

However, I am mindful that nearly all of the things that I find especially progressive in the proposed curriculum were said about the 8-4-4 system 31 years ago. Why has the 8-4-4 curriculum failed?  I think it is not too late to answer this question. Lets not be too quick to invest massive resources in curriculum change when the problem in our education lies elsewhere.

The real problem is that our children are not learning. This has everything to do with teachers and the quality of teaching, pedagogical approaches and much less with the elegance of the curriculum. The proof of a curriculum is in learning outcomes. A great curriculum does not inevitably produce learning. Great teachers produce great learning outcomes. Perhaps this is where we ought to start.

Let’s invest in recruiting, training and retaining the best teachers. We should restore the lost glory and prestige in teaching. If we don’t address the issue of quality of teachers and how they teach, we will be back at another conference lampooning the proposed new system and vigorously urging for change. 

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