Kenya’s Education System Needs to Be Rescued, Urgently! On the Brink of the Precipice?
22 June 2023

ISSUED ON TUESDAY, JANUARY 17, 2023

Kenya has seen several reforms in its education system ever since the post-independence era. Starting with the Ominde Commission of 1964 that sought to establish an education system that would foster national unity and create sufficient human capital for national development in the wake of huge challenges brought about by colonization, to the Gachathi Report of 1976 that saw the birth of the Kenya Institute of Education among other developments. Further reforms were witnessed in 1981 when the then Presidential Party proposed the abolition of the 7-4-2-3 system and in its place the 8-4-4 system was born. There have been many other reforms in between but it is the 8-4-4 system, that has been around for more than three decades, that the Competency-based Curriculum (CBC) sought to overhaul in 2017 with the introduction of the 2-6-6-3.

Notably, the intentions of these reforms were progressive especially towards curbing a growing culture where cut-throat competition was the order of the day, oftentimes pushing parents and learning institutions to extreme lengths to stay at the top of the rank. However, the rush to implement this new system has done more harm than good in the wake of a grossly damaged education sector, deeply confused parents and learners and has left more questions than answers. Could the Ministry of Education have been used for political expediency at the expense of learners? Who is the actual beneficiary of this rushed implementation?

Granted, the right to education is a fundamental human right as provided in the Constitution of Kenya (CoK) and international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It remains indispensable for the exercise of other rights and is the single most powerful tool that lifts socially excluded human beings from poverty into more dignified lives in the society. We shall not watch as education is subjected to ping-pong play with learners being used as pawn for whatever reason.

We, the Elimu Bora Working Group, guided by international human rights standards envisage a sector that conforms to the following principles: Quality, inclusive, accessible, affordable and equitable.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates that education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. And that parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children. However, what we see today is far from what international standards require, as described below:

 

PERSISTING CHALLENGES

  • Rushed implementation of new education system

The implementation of the CBC education system that was rolled out in 2017 has been seen by many as a case of putting the horse before the cart.

The Teachers Service Commission (TSC) advertised on various dates in December 2022 the process of recruitment and transfer of teachers. A total of 30,000 teachers are to be recruited within this month with 22,000 of them being recruited as intern teachers. Only 8,000 teachers will be placed on permanent and pensionable terms. We note that the process of recruitment is too little too late as the school calendar resumes on 23rd January. Is there enough time to train the 30,000 on the new education system bearing in mind that most of the currently engaged teachers do not fully understand and embrace the new system? What is the level of teacher preparedness especially those who will be deployed to teach in Junior Secondary Schools (JSS)? Further, we note that recruitment of teachers as interns whereas there are hundreds of fully trained teachers who have undertaken teaching practice is a bad labour practice hell-bent on denying these category of employees certain benefits.

The interim report of the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms, recommends among other things, that primary schools and neighbouring secondary schools will share laboratories and other facilities in the Junior Secondary Schools. Elimu Bora Working Group dismisses this recommendation as hot air considering that the actual distances to neighbouring schools could be much longer than imagined. It is likely that the cost of transporting learners from one school to another will be pushed down to parents and guardians. It also cannot be ignored that Covid and general school security concerns do not allow for the proposed walk-in and walk-out. Further, even most of the existing secondary schools especially in rural and arid and semi-arid areas are poorly equipped and therefore unable to effectively accommodate the JSS learners.

The implementation of CBC makes too many assumptions. With only 13 days to go for JSS to kick off, a lot remains to be done. There’s need, for instance, to harmonize school management of primary schools and JSS to avoid conflict and ensure smooth running of the institutions. Noteworthy, parents need full and timely information on the JSS  to enable their preparedness around school fees, uniforms and other attendant requirements.

 

  • Ill-preparation to deal with emerging issues

The Ministry of Education has remained ill-prepared to respond to emergency situations including health pandemics as was experienced during the Covid-19 epidemic, which hugely exposed the soft underbelly of Kenya’s education system. In just one year of experiencing the pandemic, around 17 million learners and more than 320,000 teachers were affected by the closure of 30,000 primary and secondary schools in 2020. There were efforts to introduce virtual learning, but these were only successful in private schools; most of which took advantage of the pandemic to extort parents through unreasonably high charges. Notably, the virtual learning revealed a significant digital divide, with more than 50% of learners being left out owing to lack of access to electricity and appropriate electronic devices as well as poor internet connectivity.

 

  • Safety and security of learners in schools

Kenya’s education institutions has been riddled with a devastating criminal pattern of arson attacks for close to 30 years now. The deadliest arson attack was witnessed 2001 when a raging fire swept through an overcrowded dormitory in  Kyanguli Secondary School killing 67 boys who were trapped inside the dormitory. In 2017, 10 girls died in a school fire at Moi Girls High School in Nairobi. More than 20 years later, this barbaric and criminal culture is yet to be tamed. The last two years have seen a growing and worrying trend of arson attacks by learners in boarding schools with an average of three attacks being reported in a week. While these have been blamed on pressure exerted on learners by an intensified curriculum brought about by closure of schools during the Covid lockdown, the pattern speaks of the degeneration of the social fabric and the emergence of criminals within learning institutions.

We note with great concern that many schools have failed to guarantee the safety and security of learners, leading to many appalling and senseless deaths, as seen in the following select cases:

  • The mysterious death in 2022, of a Form Three student whose lifeless body was discovered on the banks of a shallow river about 300 meters from the school. The student of Nyakemincha Secondary School had been last seen alive at the school during the personal morning devotion before attending the Catholic mass.
  • Still last year, the lifeless body of Jane Waruguru, an autistic Grade One pupil at Buruburu 1 Primary School was found floating in the school’s swimming pool.
  • Within the same year, two KCPE candidates from Comejuu Premier Academy drowned in Theta Dam during a school excursion to Kinare Forest.
  • In June 2022, a Form Four student died in mysterious circumstances after coming from a basketball game. It is reported he told his friends that he was unwell but his parents accused the school administration of denying the boy a chance to visit hospital when he was clearly on brink of death.
  • In 2019, Clifford Otieno, a Standard Four pupil at Nairobi River Primary School, died in mysterious circumstances and his body found floating in the school’s swimming pool. A post-mortem report by government pathologist Peter Ndegwa said there were ‘features consistent with drowning.’
  • The death of a Form One student, Ebby Noelle Samuel, at Gatanga CCM, now St. Anuarite Gatanga Girls High School, in 2019, following alleged severe assault by the then Deputy Principal on grounds of a hairstyle that was contrary to school regulations. The autopsy revealed that Ebby suffered internal bleeding leading to her death after she was hit with a blunt object on her forehead.

 

  • Lack of political accountability and goodwill

Additionally, we are equally concerned that the following issues raised by Education stakeholders and which formed critical parts of interrogation by parliament at the onset of the CBC have never been answered conclusively to date:

  • Expected outcomes of the change in curriculum
  • Core prerequisite to roll-out and implementation including costing of the proposed curriculum, matrix and timelines
  • Examination and assessment imperatives including levels at which different types of examination will be administered in the basic education under CBC
  • Pilot study of the CBC implementation, challenges and lessons learnt and where captured (does the Summative Evaluation report exist?)
  • Progression Pathways (link between CBC, TVETs and University Education)

Already if we are experiencing challenges at the primary level, what will happen at other levels?  Again, several Public Universities are facing serious financial constrains e.g  Egerton University which risks sacking its lecturers.

 

 We are also concerned about the haphazard proposal by the regime to close the Higher Education Loans Boards(HELB)  and other agencies and replace them with a joint institution without  the requisite sequencing and stakeholder consultations and engagements. 

 

Finally, while spaces and supports  for students, teachers and lecturers continue to wane,  state institutions responsible for matters education  have increasingly become unaccountable.  It is quite unfortunate that most of the ongoing reforms including the CBC process have limited regards to the rights and well-being of students living with disabilities.

WE DEMAND THAT;

  • The government steps up to its cardinal responsibility to provide to her citizens education of quality, inclusive, affordable, equitable and lifelong learning for responsible and productive citizenship. The government must protect, respect and fulfill the right to education.
  • The MoE must ensure effective and wide-ranging consultation with all relevant players in the education sector, including civil society organisations as well as meaningful public participation in line with article 10 of the CoK.

The rush and confusion in the implementation of the CBC education must end forthwith and effective measures put in place to ensure education remains accessible and relevant.

  • The MoE, working with the relevant agencies, strengthens curricula to include life skills and other key competencies such as national values and principles of respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and civic responsibilities.
  • The Teachers Service Commission (TSC) must ensure timely recruitment, training and deployment of qualified teachers as well as promoting their continuous professional development with emphasis on instilling core human rights values, results and accountability to learners.
  • The government must ensure more allocation of resources to all educational institutions at all levels and the protection of the students living with disabilities among other vulnerable groups.
  • TSC must ensure teachers are well remunerated for the noble work they undertake. We note that the government has been unwilling to meaningfully improve salaries for the teachers and lecturers, leaving them no option but to undertake multiple jobs to make ends meet.
  • We demand increased public scrutiny and accountability for all institutions governing the education sector. The Presidential Working Party on Educational Reforms must ensure that all its reports are accessible to the public.

OUR COMMITMENT:

Elimu Bora is working on a comprehensive report mirrored on the above human rights standards and TORs of the working party to illuminate the key issues on the way forward of CBC and education at large. We shall also address issues of  education financing, accountability  and quality in a more critical way.

……END……..

Members of Elimu Bora Working Group includes but not limited to: Kenya Human Rights Commission(KHRC), Uraia Trust, Elimu Tuitakayo, Forum for African Women Educationists(FAWE), Constitution Reforms Education Consortium(CRECO); African Population Council(APC); National Students Caucus, Kenya National Interface Team(KNIT); Institute for Economic Affairs(IEA); (Universities Academic Staff Union(UASU) among others.

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