Education is not about 8-4-4 or 2-6-3-3-3 or what “experts” say: In educational practice & reform, the teacher is king.

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  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 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!

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  1. This is an excellent piece. I would like to echo your sentiments and add I would wish to state that this talk about changes in the structure of the system are sideshows. I am yet to see a thoroughly researched report on the pros and cons of the 844 system and why a different system will seek to solve the issues raised

  2. Cant add more, as my teacher and knowing quite well what you stand for, i totally concur with you.
    I guess Matiang’i should get you as his chief advisor. Am pretty sure even Finland, the country that sets educational standards globally will get something to learn from us.

  3. Well put and I support your idea.I ve always felt that the so called educationst and those charged with the responsibility of review of our education are well read but not well informed.As a Kenyan I was personally disturbed by the arguement put forward as the reason behind the changes.In processing the processor determines the end product or its quality.In education the teacher is the processor.In short our teachers are ill equiped to effect transformative changes no matter the system.

  4. Really Kenyans system’s is very hard coz namba of yrs z too much and big and long syllabus and u finished all their z no job they employed pple w/o went tuition others they don’t know hw to read nd write coz of CORRUPTION

  5. Well put. But I’m afraid that even the teachers themselves have been caught up in the mix. Is it that the leaders of the teachers’ unions have not been sensitized about this or they can only talk about bread and butter?

  6. The same is happening in the medical profession. Set a non-medic to dictate terms n conditions of service. Outcome, numerous strikes which do not meet their intended goal since most of those involved do not work as medics n do not understand their frustrating working conditions. As Kenyans, we HV a long way to go to achieve our desired goals.

  7. The mistakes committed in implenting 844 are just about to be repeated, the haste, the failure to listen, the feeling that structure is the problem and sidelining the teacher. Please prof do education a favour by forwarding this letter to education CS. Its true the teacher is KING

  8. I have been following your opinions closely. You are contradicting yourself prof. Previously you said Matiang’ should ensure an overhaul of the education system to earn the title of a hero. Now you dont seem to have a problem with the system as long as the teacher is empowered…i like consistency…you are not as great as i thought.

  9. You’ve said what no one in the system wants to hear. Anything touching on teachers cannot be entertained by a government that despises teachers and has brought the profession to its knees. In fact its not that teachers don’t feel like professionals. Its just that the leaders have dragged those in the profession through unimaginable mud and its unfortunate that the reason why we are not consulted when they talk of reforms is because they have made us worthless in their definition. Remember the ‘watu wa aeiou’ reference? How do you view that? Sincerely speaking I’m a teacher by choice. Not because I failed somewhere. But now I have my second thoughts. Why did I choose teaching? We’ve been degraded, demoralized, I’d say even insulted by the president when he said we are late comers and lazy(seriously!) and frustrated. There’s nothing to motivate us at all. Don’t say I did digress. Nothing is pleasant about teaching anymore. Maybe in the University. Hope you won’t view this as whining. Its my honest opinion and that of many other teachers, prof.

  10. Its good to teach our kids english.kiswahili an math an peace an justice an God.thn after eight also arabic.thn we teach thm to repaire cars an to build roads an to drive an oparate machines.i hv seen acompany lookin for drivers wa trailers but they ddnt to treat.etc.

  11. Kenyans are monkeys, they always do things upside down, I noticed that a lecturer earns less than an uneducated MCA by a huge margin, I won’t be surprised to see kenyans wearing pants on their heads….ooops! Somebody tells me they already do! Women are doing it!!!

  12. You are right prof. What this fellows are doing is pure politics which cannot improve the quality of education in our country. It’s the teacher who uderstands the educational needs of pupils and students of all ages.

  13. pro,i agree with you, in Kenya everything is done politically, professionals are never consulted, the only proffession that seems to be respected by nation Kenya and Kenyans is not spiritual but political sir….

  14. Education reforms must have people to spearhead them. Unfortunately, these must be people in offices in Nairobi. By virtue of their positions and exposures, through interactions at the International level, they can discern what is relevant for the country. This is further improved through forums where practising teachers are brought on board to give their input. All these procedures are acceptable. What we should be questioning is the selection of the teachers to participate in these curriculum review forums. Are the selected teachers committed to the activities or are they only keen on the allowances due to the poverty they are in? The second lesson for education reforms are the shortfalls in the present curriculum. Are the shortfalls in 8-4-4 as a result of the stipulated duration at various levels or are they as a result of systemic support? It clear to all concerned that most of the schools in the country are understaffed, resources to support the curriculum inadequate and the morale of teachers are at the lowest level especially after can’t pay won’t pay from the govt. What new thing will the anticipated change bring up that is a panacea to these lingering problems? Could we be going for change for the sake of it?

    • Kuria, participation of teachers in the review is important but I is a very small part of it. I am more concerned in teachers as implementers. It takes a lot to prep them for implementation. That is where reviews will rise or fall. You ask very important questions. What is so wrong with our current set up that can only be reviewed with an overhaul? How will an overhaul fix the problems. These are valid questions.

  15. Prof I agree with you that the teacher is the king.A pedagogically skilled teacher can be instrumental in giving out desirable products (learners)… The content in our curriculum is also questionable

  16. Big up !
    It annoys so much when these government bureaucrats feign to support multifaceted consultation in major issues that affect the entire nation or sectors of the nation but when it comes to formulating the relevant policies no consultation is made at all !

  17. Surely it confirms my fears. Kenya is not a nation led by pro-nationalists with ideas for future survival of a coherent state, but a state of mind; an elitist state of mind that is nothing but pretentious bourgeoisie that thinks the real proletariat driver, the teacher in a dingy classroom, overworked and abused by the union that he/she has been forced to become a member to, doesn’t matter when his/her ideas are needed for a nationalistic decision

  18. This is a looonngggg post that is saying nothing. So, the problem is they’re talking about structuring the years spent in school. We already understood that. Now what else do you get after wasting 2 whole minutes reading through this? Where is that explanation of what this teacher focus is all about. So we spend another 3, 5 years getting the teachers “ready” to implement a new system (they’re dying off and resigning etc, but lets keep on doing it) while the kids wait, for the teachers to have a second round of “education”? (the first was EDUCATION for them, the second, education about education they will now impart to kids) .

    To me THAT is what is nonsense. Maths will not change. Grammar neither. Same way a maths teacher can also take an English class if they are proficient in it, teaching methods is what matters!

    For me formalising the expectations of ability and proficiency of pupils right from ECD is an important aspect, than the current situation where we only recognise education as starting when they reach Class One. That foundation needs to be standardised.

    So too the change in content. We have too much in the ” sillybus” for proper assimilation.

    Knowing the extent of what general knowledge should be imparted before one specialises into their talents or preferences, that is also key. We are wasting too much of our kids time on non essentials looking at the sum total of what their future career and life will be.

    So its not just “structure”.

    • I totally agree with you sir!…today the good professor has just made alot of noise n smoke over the teachers but offered nothing at the end!…all i heard is teacher teacher teacher is central ×10 times!!….to me, the end product should be the guiding principal!….what is the function of the end product??? is the end product going to benefit from the process n there after! ?…..people can talk alot about the process, but even if we make a very beautiful end product that has no functionality in the next level of society, its all noise!…kenyan education system can make very good students but if the economy cant absorb them, they are just for display!

  19. There used to be a certain #Teacher_is_the_King_attitude back in the 80’s to early 90’s.Literally, that is.That was from the public as #Ngugi_wa_Thiong’o captures aesthetically in #Weep_not_Child.Haha,ilipotea with the commercialization of 8-4-4.On teacher training, you are spot on,sir.I normally wonder what goes on in those so called teacher training classes and what “we” teach in the actual field.A sample case is the #teaching_practice_experience. “We” spend so much time correcting and updating these student-teachers on the current trends,showing the nature of disconnect that exists.As teachers we are our first enemies.

  20. Chiriswa Shirobo

    I would read this again and again. How I wish the so called csos read this. The implementers train teachers just in a day stuff that can take a whole month. And to make matters worse,is that they come with readups and read throughout the day and ask you to go implement. Then the following week they’re on your necks. They do not understand what they’re assessing since during the course dabbed seminars they just read instead of doing it. I remember the old adage,monkey see monkey do.

  21. We want change but not ready to face the consequences of change,for any change their must be proper research by involving all stakeholders,witchcraft is real,this Kenya…,…….

  22. When you talk matters education, one can feel the meat in the bones. You have dissected the body and exposed the rot that need to be treated. Will these people ever learn?

  23. The writings are true. I hope the someone in the big office is listening but as usual, they will bed at let the wind of these words to pass. Then after 30years of ineptitude, somebody will invent another structure and the wheel will continue spinning towards obscurity…no change. Wainaina continue telling them. I worked with teachers and their officers for 7 years and i know how the bosses regard the teachers- with all contempt. But the teacher obeys takes it painfully awaiting the payslip.

  24. Prof. You are a smart guy, as a teacher I do question the intention of the review but no concrete answer has been forthcoming. I don’t believe that the masters of board room decisions have correctly diagnosed the problems with the current system and attempted any workable solutions. As at now the training in tertiary institutions and universities is slowly going to pure theory instead of practicals. From my observation 8-4-4 has failed due to inadequate training equipment and lack of proper teacher training on the practical areas. Why was music, art and craft and home science scrapped from the primary school syllabus? I have more to share unfortunately we are just consumers of the directives.

  25. For the first time I partially embrace the criticim with winky eyes.The new structure isnt bad as prof. tries to fill our ears.
    It’s the mechanisms unclearly stated to aid its success.I handle foreign curriculum and I heartily cherish specialization in various disciplines.

    Do not fool us man,this structure shall eventually lead to specialization rigght from early school unlike 8-4-4 where early school and primary school was of little concern in terms of teacher qualifications.How could you expect a UT to be cared as a graduate teacher?

    Give reforms time and dont think aloud…noise only scares but silence frustrates.Matiang’i is really frustrating elites of no good purpose to this country.

    Remember that this system oly rewards memory and thats why you are where you are now.The proposed system shall reward skills and thats why china,koreas,japan etc are where they are….any thing unclear?

  26. kind of making assumption while doing a research…bad results…make it participatory..good results…….and while they doing watever they do in those boardrooms …it would be wise to focus more on ensuring resources are available for teachers..teachers work with what they are given…

  27. In Kenya the classroom teacher who is the major implementer of the curriculum is demotivated and has been relegated to be a background spectator. His remuneration right from nursery to University does not put into consideration his education, skills, and labour input.

  28. Precisely, Prof. I have talked, written papers on this but I always appear to talk to myself. I am glad now there are several of us going by the comments on this wall. Important research areas now are: what goes on INSIDE the classroom, not the years! While a task force is condemning a broad based curriculum with two exams in they introduce a structure that is defined by several examination bottlenecks. What marks the transitions from 2-6-3-3-3?

    • Ongeti, Karibu to social media, the new frontier in information sharing and creating conversations around change. I would rather engage here that in those Conferences where we actually talk to ourselves and our peers. I would encourage you to start a blog. I promise you the engagement there is more meaningful than any you will ever get in those Conferences. Been there done that. I love it here. Karibu.

  29. Kudos Proffesor Michael Wainaina. Truth Is Curriculum Review is not only timely but overdue as well.In as much we want to gain the voters score next year,it’s equally important to to follow Research reports. Pedagogy is best achieved through best classroom practices where the teacher is paramount.

  30. I totally agree with you on this issue. The fact is our education system is still colonised, fragmented, outdated and corrupt. I can support you in this fight prof. Alot of human resource is being wasted through this mismanagement n lack of vision.

  31. For the first time I purely subscribe to ur ideas and reasoning. They are worth reading and a lot can be learnt from it. The problem with the so called ‘experts’ ,they think they av bigger brain capacities than the rest. Instead they are greatest “mediocres within the midst of a mediocre nation,ppl who can’t see light even when there is light at the end of the tunnel!

  32. Some things are not easy to believe. That this guy has been in the teaching career for ‘a couple of decades’?. Say 3 or 4 decades? There is only one condition under which a claim can hold true. That his profile photo was taken a couple decades ago.

  33. this article deserves to be put on every front page of every newspaper… I don’t know who the hell these experts are. The manner in which Teachers are despised is ao demeaning of their role not just in the education sector but the country for teachers influence lives, they deal with lives. It a profession that deals with lives and influences them. for instance currently teachers sign Appraisal forms and performance contracts. they are tracked on keeping records. but one fact is most Quality Assurance officers were teachers who never had any records. they never prepared schemes of work or lesson plans. now they go to school to ascertain whether teachers have these documents or not.

  34. It is well said. Preparing a good recipe without proper involvement of the cook is a disaster waiting to happen. It is until the ministry officials will appreciate the teacher that meaningful progress will take place.

  35. #KariukiNdung’u is absolutely to the point.
    I think all these ullulations are a great sign of myopic kind of sense of self pity.
    Some one who involved in #tusomeearlyliteracy wont have any difficulty understanding where we are heading.

    To prof. I equally agree but rem that the implementation of the new structure isnt an overnight event….

  36. Yule giraffe wa politics Mzee Daniel Arap Moi had a seriously positive vision when he launched the 8-4-4 system.
    But he never gave much thought to cost implication.
    Initially, implementation seemed on track with emphasis laid on practical subjects like h/science right from primary school.
    Then the watering down began until the present shell resulted.
    This thing is headed the same way as you say.

  37. I like your line of thought Prof…..I am a trained teacher but it has never occurred to me that a professional body for the teaching fraternity is a terribl e omission in the Kenyan education equation . The top down approach to decision making as depicted in the write-up is hardly effective. I agree, education reforms should begin with re-engineering the teaching profession itself.

    • Prof. Michael Wainaina

      Emmah, I am glad if the article has raised your awareness to the great omission of not having a professional teachers’ body. As a blogger I feel fulfilled when my writing makes a difference with any one individual Thanks for engaging.

  38. Well TSC isnt a professional body.We have quacks registering and handling teachers in TSC offices.Then those quacks also sit in school boards to interview teachers for employment?Only in Kenya! Too much crap and mediocrity.

  39. Okay guys, I was in the second lot of 8-4-4 system students to get c+ and above (only 7) for university admission without pure guidelines in 1990. 8-4-4 is bad and was politically cooked; we were lucky to see the last A level group of students at Tarang’anya High school and can assure you that those guys were a pure elation in every aspect.

  40. I am convinced that a plain fact doesn’t sink easily in the minds of those whose academic pride is written on papers #joseph ochieng!! Let us accept that teachers are core in all educational matters, period.

  41. Spot on, my good Prof. Pulling out two blogs, hours apart, balooning with the flavours of research and facts,under the same sunup is worth applause. Being a beneficiary of 8-4-4, I find the conspiracy theorists laughable. They havent brought to the table any reasons why 8-4-4 ‘dung’ [God forbid] is filled with flies save for the usual bottle necks cropping from poor parenting. The net effect of this is piled on the teachers, jacks of all trades. Let me not glorify the Jubilee Kakistoracy with upside down non existent priorities. Teachers are their own saviors, intellectually, professionally and economically.

  42. very true however curiculum review is about the learner. stakehokders are many the teacher being one of them and any curriculum review without stakeholder input is a sham. I hope this is not the case otherwise Knut and kuppet would not be part of those hotel delegations…….

  43. The informal settlements (we dodging reality by using these cozy names for the poorest neighborhoods) have witnessed schools run on simplest of ingenuity with encouraging cartels and vested interests seem out after them at those posh forums/seminars in the name of structures…

  44. I hope those advocating for the change will get time to read this. To be a teacher is a calling not “get”job as the case is now. Bribing your way to become a teacher when there was no calling in you to be one. I agree in totality with the author of this post. Were the recommendations based on the teacher observations really? The new proposed system will still fail without good will from teachers.

  45. Cege Gacuhi

    very well some sort of an expert(having been a pre primary teacher for over forty years)the problem with our education system is the total disregard of pre primary and primary school teachers.they are hardly ever promoted despite doing the donkey work.ln time they become disillusioned and this point they sink in alcoholism.It is such a pity.

  46. Most of these policies are implemented in a rush n it’s always political. Each regime comes with changes just because they want to be seen as working. In the end this is leading to wastage. People are being wasted.

  47. Always with the motive of dicrediting what Dr. Matiangi has done. You should accept that kenyan quality of education is doubted worldwide and lacks technical expertise and i doubt you also.

  48. Very well put Pro. Wainaina. Changes to anything to do with education must be done with teachers, infact they are the major stakeholders in the sector. Another issue that is my concern despite being slightly out of topic is this hulabaloo about BRIDGE INTER’ SCHOOLS. Since I moved my children from public school to BRIDGE Inte’ schools they have improved alot. But the Education SC Matiang’i is and Sosion of KNUT are so much against the method of teaching in these schools. What could be the problem yet we as parents are cirtisfied with our childrens’ performance. Kindly what could be wrong?

  49. The system is however study a whole semester and get tested in only two hours.not knowing where you will be tested on and the rest remains irrelevant.what if you studied well and captured areas that are not tested in your exams ??are you less of a bright student that one who luckily captured the right sections ???

  50. The main problem with 8-4-4 was funding. All these vocations under the umbrella of ‘ talent ‘ cud still have been realised right from Primary school to high school and polished in middle level colleges.
    From where will the funding now come from. Now that education is not devolved, the national government cud be creating another NYS like sugar coated system where commissions will be formed to investigate who pocketed money meant for this and that.
    The urge to leave a legacy cud be part of the driving force.

  51. I agree with you prof.Some of those who bubble and look pompous in news-media houses never taught a learner in the 8-4-4 or the system before to add any value to the new 2-6-3-3-3 in complete disregard to heavily ladened and poorly paid tutors.What if succeeded to reach their current level through successive exam cheating up to graduation.Pew! Peudo-academics!

  52. Yees well said…like a spring is to water so education is to the teacher. If we will have quality education then the teacher is the centre of focus…period. It is not the structured matrices of time in class but what comes out of the teacher.

  53. I have never seen any man make more sense like you did on your wall. You are the “small ” Matiang’i ama or you are more equal ? Anyway whichever the case, Am too a researcher and do it alone and concur with you ,there is need for wider consultation and inclusivity in this curriculum drama. I support your point ,why do we have poor results and empty headed learners all stages of accademics levels? Do we remunerate teachers to do a good job ?this is just a tip of the iceberg …..let’s get all the facts right before implementation.

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