8-4-4 Education System Failures

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  • Date Modified04-04-2021
  • Date Published2021-04-04

The 8-4-4 education system is a curriculum widely known in Kenya as this was what most citizens were guided by when they set their feet on the path of knowledge. This curriculum is now gradually being erased by the new Competency Based Curriculum (CBC) since a phased roll-out in January 2019.

8-4-4 curriculum started of in 1985 during this time, it cannibalized 7-4-2-3 education cycle a formal education system introduced by the British Colonial rule in 1963. The 8-4-4 comes from its education cycle which consists of:

  • 8 years in primary school
  • 4 years in secondary school
  • 4 years(minimum) in university education

The Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) is a body that evaluates, vets and approves the curriculum for basic and tertiary education. Basically, it conducts research on the education system then coordinates and advises the Ministry of Education on sustainable development of the education sector. In 2009, the KICD conducted a summative evaluation of the 8-4-4 curriculum with the objective of scrutinizing its relevance of meeting the needs of Kenyans in the 21st century skills. This article shall focus on and elaborate on the findings of the evaluations done.

Why the switch from 8-4-4 to CBC Education System
From the KICD evaluation, the following were found to be the main 8-4-4 failures:

  • Examination-oriented
  • Over-emphasis of content coverage
  • Lack of special needs curriculum
  • Lack of ICT infrastructure 
  • Lack of career guidance

8-4-4 is heavily exam oriented. This is 8-4-4's most basic weakness. 8-4-4 uses summative assessment to evaluate students, this is where at the end of an education cycle an exam is done. These summative assessment came as national exams in the form of KCPE and KCSE administered by the Kenya National Examination Council (KNEC).
These kinds of summative assessments carried a negative effect of curriculum implementation because teaching and learning were focused on performance in examinations. Students who have completed the system learn that its all about exams - you learn in order to pass exams. Teachers issue exams, you fail then this proves academic dwarfness. This fact is evidently pronounced during KCPE and KCSE examination release where schools engage in the academic auction of mean scores. 

This pulls focus away from acquisition of knowledge in order to wield it into a skills. 8-4-4's basic concepts weakly met the Kenya Vision 2030 goals of the education sector of embodying learners with 21st century skills acquisition: practical, technological and entrepreneurial skills

Over-emphasis of Content Coverage
The KICD's evaluation also found the 8-4-4 curriculum was heavily theoretical and driven by demand for learners to excel in examinations. Learners were only abstract and facts-oriented at the expense of skill acquisition. No emphasis was done on application of knowledge and innovation, only learning of content was done. 

Strong emphasis were placed on syllabus coverage. As a result, the curriculum did not meet the needs of Kenyans in acquisition of practical, technological and entrepreneurial skills. The 8-4-4 poorly met the 21st century global standards. Students who study under 8-4-4 find it difficult to escape the doctrine of certificates. Few successfully de-learn this doctrine.

Lack of Special Needs Curriculum
8-4-4 severely lacked a curriculum for learners with special needs. 8-4-4 placed all learners in one basket including the visually impaired, hearing impaired and the physically impaired. This placed them at a distinct disadvantage as they too must also sit for the same national examination.

CBC cures this problem by having various curriculum based on special needs of the learners. The special needs education curriculum model include:

  • Enriched Curriculum - For the gifted and Talented
  • Regular Curriculum with Adaptation and Intervention Programmes - For the physically handicapped, visually and hearing impared
  • Regular Curriculum with Intervention Programmes - For the communication, behavior disordered and learning disability
  • Specialised Curriculum and Intervention Programmes - For the severe autism, mentally handicapped, deafblind and multiple handicapped
  • Home Based / Hospital Intervention Programmes - For those with profound disabilities

Lack of ICT infrastructure  

It was found that most teaching resources was low and most primary schools did not have ICT infrastructure. This is evidenced by the fact of primary schools having only 5 subjects: Mathematics, English, Kiswahili, Science and Social Studies. For the few eccentric primary schools that went out of there way to have computer studies and languages like Germany, French and Spanish they were only done as an ancillary objective and never part of the main goal as they were not recognized by the Ministry of Education.

Even though most secondary schools have Computer Studies as a subject, it comes as an alternative and only a few percentage pursue it. The 8-4-4 does not truly identify with computer skills, if it was present its only an alternative. Those in university and colleges study Computer as a common unit. This common unit is heavily theoretical and one doesn't even have to come close to a computer. Those who truly pursue it, experience it because they took a subject or course that studies computers such as Computer Science. Alongside such people are those self-taught, who pursue it outside the classrooms and become computer literate due to passion and intrinsic motivation.

Students completing the education curriculum find themselves lacking in the 21st century jobs that mandates one to have basic computer skills. Such has led to the rise of Computer Packages, most job adverts today come with requirement of computer skills. As such, people rush to computer packages in order to be identified as a computer literate. Computer Package is a delusion in and of itself as again most people who pursue it fall into the same trap of certificates, 8-4-4's biggest ideology. These packages are heavily focused on Microsoft Office use where one studies for 1 to 2 months at most, take an exam and there are done. Forgetting that a skill is more important and this is something that requires more use, practice and experience.

As a results, most Kenyans today think that computer literacy is bare Microsoft Office use.

Lack of career guidance
With 8-4-4, at the end of secondary education, students are destined to reach the inevitable question 'What next?'. So much time was spent on covering the syllabus and passing exams no dedicated thought is put into what careers to pursue. Even when a student answers this question, one can never really know if they have a satisfying answer because definitive look on the what, why and when of careers are not fully investigated. 

In 8-4-4, a student's career range is greatly narrowed during subject selection. The curriculum hides various truths that a student needs to know when determining careers. In secondary, most schools have Form 2 students drop certain subjects. The biggest guiding principle here is drop the subject you poorly perform in. It is generally known that this where some students drop other subjects out of spite for the teacher or the prevailing climate of prejudice the class has against a subject. All this is done without full awareness of the consequences of their action. In the final year, if you are hit with an epiphany of your destiny and realized you picked the wrong subject(s), its too late to turn back.

There is complete lack of career counseling, students are not taught the different arrays career available - basically, the what of careers. Why and how to choose careers. Due to this, students are only aware of careers they were told or saw, probably by there kin or teachers. As a result fourth year students sit for their final KCSE with little to no knowledge of the true picture of career choices. They are infected with the disease of traditional careers. It is easy to ask the question 'What do you want to be after you finish school?' and get a majority falling in one of:

  • Doctor
  • Engineer
  • Pilot

No university nor college in this world has course named Doctor.

The curriculum expects these learners to select a career after high school. With the limited career knowledge now come to a new knowledge of cluster points. The determining factor that tertiary institutions use to enable one to pursue a career. On looking at the broad range of courses different universities offer, here they find there is no course named doctor but rather a field of Medicine and Surgeon with other fields inside it.

There exist a nebula of career confusion, uncertainty and doom. This is the primary reason that has led to Kenya's limited field of expertise. Due to an invisible boundary that plagues students in secondary school.

In conclusion, its high time 8-4-4 meets its demise. In the France history, Napoleon Bonaparte a revolutionary war hero had succeeded in delivering France from its enemies but because of his nature, Napoleon was leading France into needless wars and would have driven the country into a weakened condition. When he was captured, France yearned for him again because it was he who had brought France to stand tall. Talleyrand, a former foreign minister together with a few of his cohorts plotted against Napoleon. When he finally fell and was exiled, a diplomat who understood what Talleyrand did was quoted "He has set this house ablaze in order to save it from the plague".

KICD and the Ministry of Education have brought ground breaking change. Kenya needs to meet with the global standards of the 21st century skills. Education is the key to the future of any country that hopes to create, innovate and contribute to the world's solutions. Kenya does not need schools with mean scores nor decorated certificates with nothing to show for it, Kenya needs learning institutions with centrality of science, technology and innovation with citizens with a mindset of application of knowledge and problem solving. Today new challenges are coming up, tomorrow will certainly have more and even bigger challenges. Kenya needs a self sustaining ecology thriving with talents and careers realized to their full potential and CBC, if done right, is the key.

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