The Kenyan Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC), which started its implementation almost eight years ago, culminated in Grade 6 first Kenya Primary School Education Assessment (KPSEA) in 2022.
The graduates will join another level of 3 years, called Junior Secondary, of grades 7, 8 and 9.
The timing and approach
This is happening just after a competitive presidential election with divergent views on how best to implement the new CBC.
The new President, Dr. William Ruto’s administration, has a different opinion from its predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration, on many issues with the new curriculum.
This is evident from his campaign promises of relooking at the curriculum to accommodate stakeholders’ views, which he actualized within less than a month in office by appointing a committee to collect views from the public and make a report with recommendations.
Although the report has not been published, tidbits in the public domain indicate the current administration’s different opinions.
One can also discern such differences from how the views were being presented during the public presentations to the committee and if indeed they will be taken into account.
They include reviews of school fees financing, curriculum framework, personnel recruitment, school infrastructure financing and locating, among many others.
Whatever the differences and changes that may follow, there are obvious challenges that the Ministry of Education must braze itself to face immediately after learners’ admission to Junior Secondary in 2023.
They include large enrolments, physical infrastructure, Junior Secondary administration, the curriculum and its materials, psychosocial preparedness, school personnel, and education financing, among others.
Since some of the problems are usual ones, this article focuses on a few that are very specific with the advent of the Junior Secondary in 2023.
Some of the issues will be discussed as stand-alone problems. Still, they are mostly interrelated to the extent that failure in addressing one affects the implementation of the other(s).
The main challenge is the number of students to be enrolled in the first year of Junior Secondary vis-à-vis the infrastructure available.
Big numbers, less infrastructure
Given the short time before Junior Secondary commences this year, any planned infrastructure will not address the big enrolment expected to transition from Grade Six.
A total of 1,287,597 candidates sat for the first time Kenya Primary School Education Assessment (KPSEA) in 2022 and are all expected to join Junior Secondary in 2023.
Uhuru’s administration spent almost Ksh 9 billion on constructing 10,000 classrooms in secondary schools across the country to forestall this problem.
While these classrooms look like a booster to secondary schools’ infrastructure, they cannot accommodate the numbers expected, given the 100% transition policy aimed at.
It must be noted that it is not classrooms only that form part of the physical infrastructure needed.
The laboratories, workshops, libraries and dormitories in boarding schools are insufficient and currently congested and unequipped, even with the World Health Organization (WHO) and Ministry of Health (MOH) guidelines.
The administration of the Junior Secondary is also a big issue that is yet to be resolved.
On domiciling the pupils
There are divisions as to whether these pupils should be domiciled in the primary schools, secondary schools or both, with very valid reasons.
One of the reasons given is that the students are considerably young to be housed in boarding secondary schools, especially at the time when the 8-4-4 system students are in session.
The other reason is that they still need a mixture of both primary and secondary school-trained teachers, as the curriculum for Grades 7 through 9 needs both personnel and that secondary school teachers are yet to be in-service trained on the CBC curriculum.
If therefore, they are housed in primary schools, there is no single public primary school in Kenya with a laboratory, yet if they are fully housed in secondary schools, not only are they insufficient, but they are also not in a position to handle the over 1.2 million learners.
The other problem with the high enrollment is the administration of all the secondary schools, now starting from Grade 7.
Wherever the Junior Secondary will be housed, the principals and their deputies at the secondary school level and the head teachers and their deputies at primary schools are ill-prepared for the administration of Junior Secondary.
First, they are overwhelmed with the current enrolments and, second, none is trained in the administration of such a curriculum with such a group.
Third, and probably the most important, is the conflict about who is more versed in handling Junior Secondary if promotions were to be hurriedly done to handle the administration issue at Junior Secondary specifically.
The immediate feasible consideration could be getting primary school teachers with degrees, who must have had P1 training before their degrees, to be administrators in Junior Secondary.
Then the mix of this group and the currently qualified secondary school teachers, both diploma and degree, would be deployed wherever the Junior Secondary will be domiciled.
Needless to emphasize, all should be in-serviced on CBC administration and curriculum.
The other challenge is on the core tenets of CBC system that must start manifesting at the Junior Secondary level.
One of the CBC’s objectives is to lessen the perspective that one must be employed or at least be employable after completing whatever level of education. One of its core tenets is creativity.
The CBC system is meant to get everybody to where they are most suited, most interested in, and most creative and innovative at.
That idea has not gotten into many tutors and trainers in our colleges and Universities.
It is also not well understood by the practicing teachers; consequently, they are teaching for employment rather than for creativity and innovativeness.
Universities and colleges are not getting students into their programs because the students prefer those courses because they have higher opportunities for employment. This core foundation of CBC starts to get emphasized in Junior Secondary.
The immediate consideration for this is retraining all our teachers towards this end and orienting our investment to creation and innovation centers.
The massive training and re-retraining of all Junior Secondary is a problem the Ministry of Education (MOE) must urgently grapple with.
The CBC system anticipated a complete shift in mindset to being productive and having a livelihood with mostly self-employment and businesses less dependent on the government.
Invest more not only in science laboratories but also in workshops, theaters, sports, and agriculture. This can be done by doing more exhibitions and competitions at all levels, rewarding better and publicizing recognition and achievements more.
The other core challenge deals with the psychosocial adjustments at Junior Secondary School. Mental and psychological illnesses are becoming more in society, and schools are not spared.
They are the courses of crimes like arson, rape and murder, and even drug trafficking and robbery involving students.
The ages of Junior Secondary learners are very special in psychosocial adjustment. They need keen attention during their puberty and teenage stages.
Teachers are not trained in any of the professions dealing with discerning and deterring such behavior.
In the United States of America and many developed countries, learners’ mental health is a priority.
They have made a qualified school psychologist and a counselor mandatory personnel at all basic education institutions.
Not only do they counsel on career and life skills, but the school psychologist mandatorily does psychological tests for placement in special programs and discerning the state of mind of learners.
Junior Secondary, and indeed all schools in Kenya, are now ripe for other professional personnel like school psychologists, school counselors, and career guides, among others, that may deal with psychosocial maladjustments among all school-going children.
On unburdening parents
Perhaps the most controversial challenge with the Junior Secondary and CBC system is the financing of learning activities.
Parents and guardians often have raised serious concerns about their role in their children’s school activities and at whose cost.
From preschool to Grade 6, parents have been required to buy certain items randomly, sometimes not with uniformity among schools.
They have also been required to assist their children with their homework, some of which most parents have no idea about. These have both direct and indirect financial burdens on parents.
The government has a policy on Free Secondary Education (FSE). The current administration had also promised total funding for basic education.
Even the previous administration promised the same, but little was done to fully stop extra levies that abound to date.
If the parents are required to continue playing a role almost daily, does it then not mean all Junior Secondary should be domiciled at the primary schools?
While this may be a bigger reason for letting Junior Secondary remain at the current primary schools, how much extra this level will cost the parents is yet to be clarified.
YOU CAN ALSO READ: What abolishing boarding primary schools means
These challenges need urgent addressing before the CBC system becomes an idea, only good for shelving. There is a need to address the challenges well in advance.
It is also the right of the citizenry to be informed about these anticipated challenges. It is for their information and also for their preparedness.