The last of the 8-4-4 system

Kwisha! The system most of us went through is almost breathing its last. The 8-4-4 system is quickly approaching its conclusion, with the last cohort of primary learners expected to take their final Kenya Certificate for Primary School examinations (KCPE) next Monday.

Approximately 1.4 million learners will sit for their Mathematics test on October 30 as Kenya marks its second major curriculum change since transitioning from the 7-4-2-3 system in 1985.

This same cohort will sit for their KCSE in 2027 to fully replace the 8-4-4 system and embrace the new CBC system.
The system was introduced in 1985 by President Daniel arap Moi, consisting of 8 years of primary education, 4 years of secondary education, and 4 years of university education. It was attended by students who had completed two or three years of pre-school education (aged 3–6 years old).

Its main purpose was to improve the development of self-expression, self-discipline, and independence among the learners from a young age.

Moi took over from Mzee Jomo Kenyatta at a time when many Kenyans had little regard for education. His 24 years in power were characterized by an increase in access to education, but unfortunately, this came with a decline in the quality.

Evolution of 8-4-4

Kenya’s education system has also borne a high cost to promote participation, which includes school feeding programs and subsidised school fees. Initiatives such as “Maziwa ya Nyayo,” introduced by former President Moi in 1979 but later abandoned due to funding issues, as well as the reintroduction of free primary education during President Kibaki’s tenure.

Initially, the system aimed to guide young people towards self-employment. To this end, the 8-4-4 system featured a comprehensive curriculum at both primary and secondary levels, emphasizing practical subjects alongside the traditional academic subjects.

Business education was introduced in upper primary to encourage self-employment, providing fundamental knowledge and skills in areas such as record-keeping. There was also a cross-curricular emphasis on cultivating a positive attitude towards self-employment.

However, the coursework became overly demanding, and as reforms were implemented, the system became excessively theoretical, failing to establish a connection with self-employment. It seemed to serve the interests of those who excelled in the traditional subjects (English, Maths, Sciences, and Humanities) at the end of secondary education, leading them to pursue higher education and white-collar jobs.

Three curriculums

Since Kenya’s inception, the country has experienced three different curricula. The first was the 7-4-2-3 system, which was once shared with both Uganda and Tanzania. It included 7 years of primary school, followed by 4 additional years of upper secondary education, and finally, 3 years of university education. The Certificate of Education (CPE) was equivalent to the KCPE, and the Kenya Certificate of Education (KCE) was the equivalent of the KCSE.

The new Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) was introduced in 2017 to replace the 8-4-4 system, with the aim of shifting the focus from competition for examination grades to emphasizing excellence. Under the CBC, students’ excellence can be assessed through a series of tests and practical learning experiences. Particularly at the lower levels, students are provided with various opportunities to identify their needs, talents, and potential.

This new curriculum is more engaging, as it involves a significant amount of practical work and offers a broader scope for skill development. The long and often tedious 8-4-4 system, which many of us criticized while going through it, is now in its final stages.

The curriculum is learner-centered and places a strong emphasis on the importance of developing skills and knowledge, which can be applied to real-life situations. It features a 2-6-3-3-3 System of Education, where basic education is organized into three levels: Early Years Education, Middle School Education, and Senior School.

Learners will spend 2 years in Pre-primary, 6 years in Primary (Grade 1–6), 3 years in Junior Secondary (Grade 7, 8, 9), 3 years in Senior Secondary (Grade 10, 11, 12), retaining a total of 12 years of basic education. Additionally, there are seven core competencies emphasized by the Competency-Based Curriculum: communication and collaboration, critical thinking and problem-solving, creativity and imagination, citizenship, digital literacy, learning to learn, and self-efficacy.

CBC transition

Drawing from the institute’s evaluation and a 2012 report by the Ministry of Education, Kenya has formulated a plan to reform education and training, guided by a national philosophy that positions education at the core of Kenya’s human and economic development.

Another crucial element of the plan is the emphasis on science, technology, and innovation. The 8-4-4 education system does not offer a strong foundation for the development of such skills. The new system aims to nurture vocational and technical skills to meet Kenya’s demand for skilled labor and to support its drive for increased industrialization.

However, the first group of students under the CBC faced a challenging transition from upper primary to junior high school in early 2023 due to a lack of proper infrastructure and planning. The government has been constructing additional classrooms in existing secondary schools across the country to accommodate junior high learners. Teachers responsible for the junior high school classes underwent a ten-month refresher course.

This transition has incurred significant costs, including expenses related to infrastructure, training, and requiring parents to invest in their children’s daily school activities, at a time when most households are grappling with basic needs.

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