If there is one of the outgoing Cabinet secretaries whose shadow will linger over their ministries for years, it is George Magoha.
Prof Magoha, who has served under President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration as the Education Cabinet Secretary for three years, has appear to be a larger-than-life personality for his unorthodox leadership style, and a work ethic that few of his colleagues can match.
The towering academic who has worked as a university administrator, and headed numerous education, medical and science associations, has been the face of the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC), which has attracted love and hate in equal measure.
As William Ruto forms a new government as Kenya’s fifth president, the man or woman he will appoint as Education Cabinet Secretary will be walking a tightrope ensuring its implementation picks momentum or overseeing its abolishing, wasting the millions of shillings of taxpayers’ money that had been injected into the curriculum overhaul.
But Prof Magoha stands by the curriculum, expressing hopes that the Ruto administration will retain it.
“I hope the incoming administration will not scrap CBC because I believe it is a good system. It brings students closer to their parents in terms of school work,” he said on Saturday.
He said the ministry had done its best to ensure CBC succeeds and that by last week, 98 percent of classrooms had been completed ahead of Grade Six pupils transitioning to secondary school in January 2023. The ministry is looking to construct 16,497 classrooms.
Part of his wins has been leading mop-ups for needy pupils in slums to ensure 100 percent transition to secondary school. Prof Magoha was seen regularly moving from house to house in the slums to ensure pupils who completed primary education join secondary schools.
This year, the top performing counties, Nyeri, Nyamira, and Mandera, registered 100 percent transition, while Kisii, Nyandarua, and Wajir hit record levels of between 95 percent and 99 percent.
The National Parents Association has appealed to Dr Ruto to retain Prof Magoha to streamline CBC, a curriculum that was introduced three years ago to replace 8-4-4 that has been in place since 1985.
Mr Kenyatta described CBC as a system that “celebrates the creative potential of children as opposed to one that leaves them with labels of failure if they do not pass exams... that brings about freedom to be creative and innovative as individuals.” More than 10 million learners have so far been enrolled in CBC.
Some parents, however, see it as burdensome and expensive.
A case challenging the system is pending in court as a bench of three judges agreed that the suit raises serious constitutional issues, which should be articulated before a determination is rendered.
The former University of Nairobi vice-chancellor noted the concerns of parents wishing that he stays at the ministry under the incoming administration and stated that although he was not looking for a job, he would be willing to take up the offer if called upon.
“If in his wisdom the President-elect thought that I could even be half worthy to be considered, we will have a conversation with him because I have now connected with the children, the poor children,” Prof Magoha said while launching CBC classrooms at Karen “C” Girls Secondary School, in Nairobi recently.
He might be praised for his hands-on approach to management but has critics at the universities where he occasionally rubbed administrators the wrong way.
In 2020, Prof Magoha was involved in a row with the University of Nairobi over the appointment of Prof Stephen Kiama as vice-chancellor and the revoking of the university’s council. The Employment and Labour Relations court ruled in Prof Kiama’s favour.
Early this year, he stopped proposed changes to degree programmes at the University of Nairobi, triggering another court fight. Prof Magoha argued plans that affect the governance and administrative structures of a public university or constituent colleges must comply with the legal framework governing such changes. The matter has since been settled.
Universities are expected to review their programmes, incorporating more science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (Stem) courses to accommodate CBC students. About 60 percent of students transitioning from senior secondary school will undertake the new pathway, creating demand for the courses.
The source at the Ministry of Education said there are no clear guidelines in universities yet time is running out.
Over the years, the ministry has also attracted huge budgetary allocations, making it potentially key to Dr Ruto's legacy.
In 2021/2022, the Treasury allocated the Education ministry Sh503.9 billion. Out of the allocation, Sh12 billion is for free primary education, Sh2.5 billion is for recruitment of teachers and Sh64.4 billion is for free day secondary education, including medical insurance.
The Treasury also set aside Sh5 billion for exam fee waiver for Grade Six, Class Eight, and Form Four candidates, Sh1.2 billion for the training of CBC teachers, and Sh310 million for the digital literacy programme.
If he is not reappointed, Prof Magoha's successor will also be judged by his or her CV. When he was appointed, Prof Magoha’s 81-page CV sparked a flurry of online debates.
The former University of Nairobi vice-chancellor, who joined the institution as a lecturer in urological surgery in 1988, detailed even the places he has travelled to in his quest for education, and presentation of papers.
He describes himself as a ‘top grade Professor of Urological and Transplant Surgery since 2000, and trained in Nigeria, Ghana, Ireland, and the UK, and a firm hands-on and results-oriented transformative leader, practising teamwork and team spirit rather than command and control.’