8-4-4 education system left some learners behind, give CBC a chance


Children play at Star of Hope Primary in Lunga Lunga village, Industrial Area Nairobi attends to a student on November 2. Schools reopen on January 4. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG



  • The ongoing implementation of the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) has attracted the ire of some parents.
  • As a parent with one child in 8-4-4 and another in CBC, I agree that their anxiety is justified. They really had no idea what they were signing up for.

As the saying goes, everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

For someone who thinks in pictures, dreams in colours, and lives for ideas, the 8-4-4 system kept me on a tight leash.

I wasn’t failing neither was I thriving since it only allowed me to express a fraction of who I really was.

I still remember my mother’s grief when I ripped my new school uniform to make a dress for my doll when I was nine years old. I made every effort to get good grades and was selected to join the university. So what’s the big deal?

Some context: I only felt the spark during art class because it elevated my sense of wonder. If I could colour my math book, believe me, I would! “Average Student” is what characterised my report cards and I accepted that narrative because the system couldn’t possibly be wrong. I was the one to adjust.

It's only at the university while studying design (which apparently was something you do when you can’t do math, another narrative fuelled by misconception and misinformation) that I began to challenge this narrative.

I finally got tired of adjusting and conforming, I was ready to change the world! I remember discussing with one of my lecturers about having a school where there were no exams, just continuous assessments, and he scoffed.

He said it could never happen. Before I got my first job, I would be harshly told “You know it depends on what you studied at the university… Some of these courses are not marketable...What job will you do exactly, draw people, paint signs on walls?"

No, of course not! But even if that was the case, was there a problem?

My mother supported me consistently despite the fact that as an accountant, she had no idea what I was doing or what I would become.

Many times she would buy the wrong art supplies. I remember one time, I asked for a paintbrush to paint on my sketch pad and she brought me a six-inch wall painting brush!

The ongoing implementation of the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) has attracted the ire of some parents.

As a parent with one child in 8-4-4 and another in CBC, I agree that their anxiety is justified. They really had no idea what they were signing up for.

CBC requires high parental engagement that many are not equipped to deal with in terms of time, resources, technical abilities and literacy levels.

Yes, there are teething problems and inequalities that need to be addressed but I believe it is better than 8-4-4 by far.

There should be more room for improvisation to reduce costs, prior communication for time- or labour-intensive assignments and perhaps community parenting for children whose parents or guardians have low literacy.

Let’s face it, 8-4-4 left some learners behind. The grades didn’t come through, the subject clusters did not align, they got stuck in a society’s dream, their parents’ dream and eventually became casualties of their own broken dreams.

It also propelled " academic imposters” that win all the plaudits yet their grades and actual work performance are at variance.

They got away with intense cramming for only one or two hours of testing. As you read this, they could be seated right next to you in the office!

Problem-solving and decision making are not dependent on memory but on critical thinking and creativity that are inextricably linked to the future of work. 8-4-4 shortchanged some of us on such skills because of its linear approach that elevates regurgitation of facts.

CBC is giving the learners an opportunity to explore and develop multiple competencies. In 1983, Howard Gardener, an American developmental psychologist, introduced the theory of multiple intelligence that outlined eight distinct types of intellectual competencies: linguistic, logical/mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist.

His theory challenged the traditional notion that there is one single type of intelligence, that only focuses on cognitive abilities. He noted that the linguistic and logical-mathematical modalities are most valued in school and society (also propagated in 8-4-4).

Though his theory has been challenged as lacking empirical evidence, I believe it is worth considering. CBC has inclusivity. I am hopeful that the mechanics will be resolved and no child will be left behind.

Parents should give it a chance and instead of trying to derail the process, they should actively look for ways of improving it. In the words of Riegel Dawson, hope is not naively denying the problem; it is just relentlessly believing in the solution.

Gennevieve is senior graphic designer, Business Daily gawino