Kenya was a British colony until it gained independence in 1963. After independence, many colonial influences persisted in the country, including the old British educational system (long abandoned in Britain). This system is test-based with key examinations that take place at the end of each academic term and then at the end of the equivalent of 8th grade and 12th grade. Students’ scores on these tests determine what secondary and post-secondary school they can attend and the type of job they can get. Teaching in Kenya has almost exclusively revolved around preparing students to take these exams as their entire future hinges on how they score. The movie “A Small Act” portrays the terrible pressure students feel to succeed in this system.
The advantage of a test-based system for Kenyan educators is that it is easy for the government to determine where students are able to continue their schooling. For example, if a student scores above 400, they go to a quality government school, or below 250 they go to a trade school. There are however many disadvantages to the test-based system. It rewards students who can memorize the material but it doesn’t encourage any analytical thinking skills. Students are taught not to question the teacher but only to learn what the teacher tells them must be learned. For students who are not good at memorizing, they are viewed as not bright and this reduces their access to a life with better opportunities. Many students are not successful in this system.
Kenyan educators clearly understand some of the downsides to the old British system and the country is now transitioning to a Competency-Based Curriculum. This new educational system will teach students more analytical, critical thinking, as well as practical skills. There will be many challenges with such a large systemic change, they will be transitioning for the next decade at a minimum. Few teachers in Kenya have experienced any other system, so to train teachers on how to teach in an entirely different way will be a monumental hill to climb. In addition, this will require the curriculum to be changed at every level and current high school and post-secondary placement processes will need to be redesigned. Our Case Managers in Kenya are staying up to date on the upcoming changes to anticipate needs, and to understand the organizational impact required to support students through the changes.