Jaden Muriithi, a Grade Two student at a private primary school in Kiambu County, gets upset every evening that his father, Joseph Mutiga, returns home without a printer.
His homework involves printing assignments almost on a daily basis, and his dad has promised him that he will buy a colour printer to make it easier for him to deliver on the assignments.
For now, though, Jaden has to contend with submitting his assignment a day late because his fathers carries pictures or downloaded images to work the following day to either print at his place of work or at cyber cafés whenever the teacher insists that the
print outs must be done in full colour.
The Mutiga household’s story is replicated in most Kenyan households that have school going children in Grade Three and below, who are undertaking the new Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC).
The curriculum, which is set to replace the 8-4-4 system that was criticised for being too theoretical and exam-focused, has won admirers and critics in equal measure.
A small home colour printer costs about Sh10,000, which Mr Mutiga says is a new item on his budget. He is also contemplating installing a home internet connection that will add about Sh2,500 to his monthly budget.
A reliable internet connection will make it easier for him and his son in assignments such as downloading of videos showing how rainfall is formed, or another recent one where the boy was required to download pictures of animals, sources of water and different forms of transport.
Mr Mutiga says his son appears to enjoy some of the assignments, but he gets anxious whenever they cannot complete them due to lack of a printer or other materials depending on the homework of the day.
"One assignment he particularly seemed to enjoy required him to spread his bed and have the parent take a picture of him, print it and carry it to school the following day. He enjoyed making the bed, but was disappointed when I told him I could only print the picture a day later. I have to buy a printer," said Mr Mutiga in an interview last week.
The downloaded images, paintings and pictures are filed in a special folder and will form part of Jaden’s performance assessment. The Ministry of Education asserts that the curriculum, which lays an emphasis on skills development, is not subject to discussion and will be implemented across primary and secondary schools and tertiary institutions.
Critics, including the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut), have however warned that the new curriculum will entrench inequalities where only children of the rich and middle class families will afford to provide their children with the relatively expensive learning materials.
Public schools, and especially those in rural areas and urban slums, are most affected as their student populations cannot afford the materials required for the new curriculum. In Kirinyaga County, Jerry Mworia says his son previously brought home class assignments that only required him to use a pencil and a book. After the new curriculum took effect, he is now regularly required to buy items that are not stocked in his neighbourhood shops such as modelling clay.
"I had to make a two-hour round trip to Kerugoya, the nearest place I could find plasticine (a brand of modelling clay). I bought a kilogramme for Sh150.
Some of the parents and teachers who spoke to the Business Daily appreciate that the new curriculum has the potential to generate skilled leaners, but the majority fear that in its present format it is likely to isolate a vast majority of the targeted population due to its financial implications.
Roll-out of the curriculum has taken off poorly, especially in public schools that do not yet have books and other learning materials. Teachers in some public schools were yet to get instruction kits as of late last week. "From the CBC training, we are required to take videos, pictures and in some lessons use the television as a teaching tool, but we do not have any of the supporting equipment and books at my school," said Mrs Jackline Mueni, a Grade Three teacher in a public school.
She is now having to teach the 8-4-4 curriculum while awaiting the materials.
“Nothing is going on well; it feels as if the ministry is not ready. If they are serious about this, they should ensure that books and other learning materials are available in schools by the end of the training," she said.
The introduction of the curriculum in public schools is supported by government funding, but parents will be expected to bear the extra costs associated with it once it is implemented in full, a tall order for the rural and urban poor.
Knut secretary-general Wilson Sossion, who is opposed to the new curriculum, says it is set to widen the gap between rich and poor families.
"This is going to drive inequality further and we have been clear from the beginning that we are not going to support the process," he said.
The Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, which developed the CBC, has in the past admitted that infrastructure in all public schools was not at par but insisted that implementation of the new system will continue as schools embark on upgrades. Education Secretary George Magoha has been adamant that the implementation will go on as planned.
Statistics indicate that one in every five children in Kenya do not go to school because of financial difficulties.
Child dependency ratio is reported to be at 74.7 percent, according to the Integrated Budget Household Survey 2018. This is the ratio of dependent children to the working population.
KICD director Julius Jwan says the new curriculum encourages improvisation and the use of locally-available materials, and therefore does not impose any extra cost burden on parents.
"Buying is not part of the new curriculum concept... And so parents are not supposed to buy anything. Any activity is supposed to be done using locally available materials," he told Business Daily on Friday.
"I gather that privately-run schools like to do things differently, but no parent in public schools should be subjected to buying any extra materials."
A report by Oxfam published earlier in the year pointed out that the Kenya government underfunds healthcare and education making them inaccessible to the majority who live below a dollar a day. According to the study, having money is a ticket for better healthcare and education.