In my teaching career spanning a couple of decades, I have come to learn something about which the “education experts” and Ministry mandarins either do not know or know but don’t care. You can meet in big hotels in Nairobi and other exotic cities and speak a lot of English, but whether educational reforms will be successful or not depends on one thing and one thing only – what happens inside the classroom. After all the meetings and the English, the classroom is where the rubber meets the road, and here, the teacher is King.
Any educational reforms that do not have the teacher at their center are doomed to fail. I believe that this is the main reason 8-4-4 failed to meet its objectives. We are repeating the same mistake. I have consistently emphasized this point in professional development training of teachers. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ApASx40bcLE. It bothers me when a review of the curriculum does not have the teacher at the center of it. I have read all the proposals about review of the curriculum and there is a lot of talk on structure, subjects, number of years, na kizungu mingi. I have not seen an equal amount of effort being put on the teacher. I agree with those who are urging caution, patience and wider consultations. These begin with the teacher. Any curriculum reform must recognize the teacher, first as a key stakeholder in this review and then secondly and most importantly, as the professional who will implement the new curriculum. The teacher is the interpreter of all the “kizungu” inside the classroom and the person who will bring to life the policy proposals and all their intentions. I can announce here that if the new reforms fail to put this into account, they will fail. Completely.
“Education experts” and Ministry mandarins have a lot of disdain for the teacher. Never mind that most of them were teachers. But now, perched in their offices in Nairobi, they think they know it all and that they can produce a curriculum and then throw it to the teachers with a circular that says, “implement it”. I have bad news for you, mnajiongeresha.
How have we gotten it so wrong for so long?
First there is the nonsensical issue of imagining that curriculum review is about structure. It is not. If there is one great disservice that the proponents of the 8-4-4 system did to education in Kenya, it was to reduce the discourse around education to the mundane levels of structure. All discussions about education begin and end with the 8-4-4 structure. Now they are proposing another structure based review. Big mistake. This is because there is absolutely nothing to the structure apart from the simplistic approach to education taken by its proponents. This discussion makes me sick. So much so because even when we are agreed that something needs to be done, we cannot get ourselves over this structure business and now we are proposing another 2-6-3-3-3 structure based nonsense which will again distract our minds from the main aspects of an education system for probably another 30 years. This nonsense needs to stop.
What’s in a structure? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
I will explain why.
First, in most education systems in the world, assuming an uninterrupted school career that ends in a bachelor’s degree, an individual will be in school for the first 18-20 years of their life. It does not matter what configuration these years are given, the total is almost always the same across world systems. There is nothing special about 8-4-4. Indeed I do not know of any other country that defines their education system in this way. It is frivolous, redundant and un-creative.
Secondly it is inaccurate. I do not know what it describes. Most children will go through a period of pre-school before primary school. That would add a 3 to make the system 3-8-4-4, if structure is this important. Again, most of the students who do form 4, do not proceed to the 4 years in the University. Most will do a two year or three year tertiary education training. That would bring us to 3-8-4-2 or 3-8-4-3. And the nonsense goes on and on.
But most importantly, we have continuously got it all wrong because of the demeaned status of the teacher as a practitioner and as a professional. Sadly, teaching is not considered a profession in this country. And it is sad to say that teachers do not consider themselves professionals either. That is why the most influential teacher organisations are Unions and Saccos and the teachers have virtually no Professional association of repute. The career is considered a craft and not a profession, even by the teachers themselves. With the teachers so side-lined, everyone has become an educational expert. Anyone with an opinion on education – and this is everyone – call themselves experts.
Professional associations are the mouthpiece of a profession. Lawyers, Engineers, Doctors, Bankers, Accountants, Surveyors, Human Resource Professionals e.tc. all have strong and legally recognized professional associations. Some of these professional associations are so powerful that they dictate what curriculum will be taught in Colleges and Universities. Teachers have nothing. So they have no voice to influence decisions on professional and policy matters like curriculum review. A teacher’s professional association should be the most powerful organ with overriding mandate in any curriculum review. Now that the teachers have been side-lined, they will receive a new curriculum from the “experts” and will be expected to implement it.
It will not happen.
“Educational experts” and Ministry mandarins can meet in Nairobi and launch whatever they may. If it touches on curriculum review, I have news for them. The teacher is King.
If you want your proposals to succeed, re-engineer the teaching profession first. Before you change anything, let the teachers lead the process. To come up with review proposals, listen to the teachers first. When you have proposals, get buy-in from the teachers and adjust them according to teachers’ recommendations. Determine from the onset what kind of teacher capacitation and support will be required to effect the changes. Develop a teacher capacitation curriculum to precede the curriculum review implementation. Begin implementation of the reviewed curriculum with teacher buy-in through the implementation of the teacher capacitation curriculum. Initiate the change by first changing teacher training curriculum itself and then by capacitating all practicing teachers at all levels, countrywide. Let them understand the rationale of the changes, the nature of the changes, the roles they will play in the changes and the expected outcomes of the changes. Provide them with the technical skills they will need to implement the changes, and most importantly provide them with change management skills and coping strategies.
Once you are sure the teacher is prepped, start implementing the reviewed curriculum. Slowly. Ensure you provide the support required for the teachers to deliver on the changes inside the classroom. A major curriculum change should therefore be preceded by not less than two years of preparing the king of the classroom, the teacher. If a curriculum is going to last for more than the paltry 30 years that the 8-4-4 has lasted, 2-3 years of teacher preparation is mandatory. Without it, you are setting yourself up for failure.
When you say you are meeting in Nairobi to discuss changes and roll them out in schools in 2017 without any reference to the teacher, I can only re-issue my warning – mnajiongeresha. You will fail. Again. Curriculum reform is not about structure, subjects, educations experts and Ministry mandarins meeting in Nairobi, it is about pedagogical practice, and what happens when the rubber meets the road inside the classroom. And in the classroom, the teacher is king!