The Education Guess



GUEST: James Amollo (Entrepreneur/Economist)


“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
Mahatma Gandhi

The State Department for Education (formerly Ministry of education) is rolling out a new system of education to replace the 38 year old 8-4-4 system. The new 6-3-3 system possibly adopted from the US seeks to review some of the subjects being taught in public schools, the period taken in school and the different levels of graduation. Initially, a child was expected to go through primary education which comprised of classes 1-8. The entire course took them 8 years and was decided into two parts, lower primary (class 1-5) and upper primary (class 6-8). At the end of the eight years, they were subjected to one exam, the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education Exams that was administered, monitored and marked by the exam body Kenya National Examinations Council. They would then proceed to secondary/high school/O level of education upon PASSING KCPE exams. The O level comprises of four classes each taking a year after which KNEC administered an exam that was qualify them to join universities and colleges. The new system on the other hands shall be divided into three parts, 6-3-3. learners will first go through six years of elementary education then proceed to middle school where they will take another three years before graduating to high school for another three years to complete their pre-university education. The number of subjects to be studied have also been reduced. According to the government, the new approach gives education a practical approach while the old 8-4-4 just concentrated on providing learners with theoretical knowledge. It is important to note that the new system has been adopted from the USA which by the way uses both the 6-3-3 and 8-4-4 systems. So to the most important question, which system is the best?

To be honest with you, none of these systems is and none is good. This might sound a bit hilarious but it is the truth. Allow me to use my own school as an example. Kisii School is one of the oldest schools in Kenya(Est 1934) and it has an array of subjects. It had 27 subjects when we were there and so the purposes of this article, l am only dwelling on the technical subjects otherwise called Technical and Creative Arts (TCAs) by the school. These included wood work, metal work, masonry, electricity, power mechanics, art and design and drawing and designs. All these subjects had laboratories and workshops where students would spend hours learning how to make furniture, repair cars, draw etc. We all expected these students to come out after a four year course and get directly into the job market or related industries. They were already qualified to practice what they had studied as all these lessons involved doing things practically as opposed to reading volumes of books. Also good to note is that they were ALL examined by KNEC. Why did I use this example? Simple reason, the same government that is claiming that our education system is more theoretical is the same government that offers these subjects in some schools under the 8-4-4 system and examines them. Why can’t the government introduce these subjects to all public schools? People will never hear of schools like Kisii and it’s technical subjects because the system has been corrupted to only concentrate on 13 subjects. Schools like Alliance, Starehe and other top national schools are known because they have concentrated all their time and resources in 13 basic subjects. Should we still blame 8-4-4 system? Even if we introduced 6-3-3, 6-6, 6-2-4 or any other system, unemployment problem will still persist.

Some of the major failures in education have not been addressed yet we are hurrying to change systems. In fact 6-3-3 is going to be more disastrous than the current 8-4-4. In my opinion, 8-4-4 is a superior and more advanced system. In goes deep into individual subject unlike the 6-3-3. The current 8-4-4 has divided sciences into three, Physics, Biology and Chemistry for example, while the new system is seeking to combine these three into one, Science. If handling them separately now is proving to be a hard task, how will a student handle them as a combined unit? Who will teach the combined unit? What will the practical exam (paper three) contain? This is a serious confusion that the ministry is about to create.

Here are some serious issues that both systems are not addressing but are the main cause of all the education problems in the country.

  1. Students read for exams and not for the knowledge.

Kenyan students are taught to pass KCPE then go to a good national school. After getting to these national schools, they are again required to work hard and pass KCSE and go to good universities. All motivational speakers who are brought to talk to the candidates are people who got plain As. According to the Kenyan parent, teacher and stakeholders, success means getting good grades. This is why Goldline Kaluyu was being glorified by the media. The basic concept of hard work seems to mean that a student shouldn’t do anything out of the syllabus, just read what is in the book and get an A, nothing like being innovative or doing general reading. Even if we implemented 6-3-3 or 6-6 system, this problem will still persist. Students will still study for exams and just exams!

  1. Societal expectations

The society expects a lot from students. Any student who scores an A of 83 or 84 points out of the possible 84 points is expected to join medical school, engineering school or law, it doesn’t matter what you want or what you like. The society already knows what is good for you. Your parents will pressure you to do medicine even if you don’t like it. For six years, you will be pursuing a degree program that you don’t like. This student ends up graduating from the university a confused and bitter fellow who can’t even do a simple surgical procedure. The effect that this creates is that some degree programs become so superior that others. Every parent wants to have his/her son doing top degree programs even if it is as a self-sponsorship. Where will Kenya get the rest of the professionals from? The new system is not addressing this problem therefore expect it to persist.

  1. Job market analysis vs student intake.

There are several profession societies in Kenya. For example the Law society, economists society, medical practitioners society etc. These societies register professionals therefore it is easy to predict that by a certain year, certain number of engineers or doctors will retire. Universities can therefore admit students using those statistics. What this does I that it helps students to get jobs faster and easier. A student would already have a job by the time he/she are in their final year of studies because by that time, a given number of professionals in that field would be retiring or new opportunities would be present. The government hasn’t been doing this and the new system is not addressing this. Universities still admits thousands of students to programs even when there are only a few job vacancies available. Our degree levels depreciate as a result and the number of unemployed grows tremendously with every graduation. Of what need is it to a country to have unemployed engineering graduands hovering over like lost ghosts? These are bright minds being wasted because the government is not doing the necessary.

  1. Student exposure to real life experiences.

Our Kenya students are in “greenhouses” in their parent’s houses. They are used to pampering. There parents and the society doesn’t allow them to experience life on their own. Anyone below 25 is still a baby in Kenya and needs full parental support. In America and other developed countries, kids are very aggressive therefore they learn to make money at a small age. In Kenya, a child doing anything that generates income is termed as child labour. Anyone below 18 years is not allowed by the parents or by the society to do anything that gives him/her any income. High school students close for holidays then go home to watch movies and wear funny clothes around the estate. Why can’t they work in malls like their agemates in USA? 13 year old are already assembling watches in China during their free time, a 16 year old works at a café in US when not in class but a 22 year old Kenyan is a WhatsApp group admin, doing nothing that generates in come. When the 13 year old American gets to age 20, he/she will have gained both knowledge and capital required to do a business. Even if they don’t start their own businesses, they still have vast experience and are likely to boost performance of the companies that employ them, they will therefore get better payments. That is why most American, European and Asian high school and university students drive their own cars while Kenyan Masters degree students are still struggling to pay their studio apartment(bedsitter) rent. Kenyan high schools and university students should start doing part time jobs during their holidays and free time respectively. This will open their minds and enable them to approach the issue of employment differently. They will also gain practical experience that is needed. This is something that 8-4-4 didn’t solve and 6-3-3 will not address.

  1. Unhealthy competition among schools.

Every school wants to be the best and therefore they will use any means including cheating to make sure that their undeserving students get good grades. These students then join universities and continue with the same cheating style because they can’t comprehend simple ideas being taught. They are literally in the wrong places doing the wrong things because their school heads wanted the glory that comes with good performance. It is very normal to find microscopic writings on desks in campus. Almost all wooded class furniture have been written on them. Students get into examination rooms with phones or small papers to cheat. Everyone wants to get a first class but very few students are working to earn it. After graduation, the job industry ends up with a bunch of job seekers who can’t do anything practical. Cheating and unhealthy competition is not in any way addressed by the new system and it is one of the major reasons why 8-4-4 us failing terribly.

  1. Corruption and nepotism during recruitment.

In Kenya, there is a say that for you to get something, you must know someone. The current job recruitment processes are just formalities as most of the boards that are tasked to recruit workers have preferred candidates most of the times. A vacancy will be announced then candidates are shortlisted but in most cases, this is to meet legal requirements. In most cases, these vacancies are preserved for undeserving relatives and friends of the top officials or those with money to bribe their way through. They don’t even consider the kind of qualifications one has. You will find a professional accountant with CPA and a degree in Accounting doing clerical duties, or is the human resource manager somewhere. This person is likely to do a poor job than a qualified human resource manager would have done. The system is doing so little to remedy this situation. Nepotism and corruption are some of the main reasons why there is high level of unemployment in the country. Even if we brought a million more education systems, these problems will still be there. This is not a system problem but pure societal problem.

In my opinion, I feel that unemployment problem in the country is as a result of people who deliberately interfere with the system. As the late Chris Musando once said, systems don’t fail, people make them fail. There are several schools that have the technical subjects that the new system seeks to introduce. But even students from these schools graduate from the O level, go to university and still end up jobless in the society. Teaching technical subjects will help with nothing if we still teach and expect the students to find their own way around the job market. How do you for example expect an entrepreneurship student who has never run a personal business to be able to graduate and start his/her own business and employ his friends simply because he/her has volumes and volumes of theoretical knowledge in his/her head? The truth is that such a student will graduate with a first class but will never be anything on their own. They will pile up like the rest of the unemployed in the society. The government should have reviewed the 8-4-4, looked at challenges it faces then worked on them. That is the only solution that education system in Kenya requires.

James Amollo

Entrepreneur and Economist.






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