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TAYLOR DIETMEIER: RESPONSE PAPER #1

Response Paper #1

C&T 802

Curriculum Planning in Kenya: A Great Contrast

Taylor Dietmeier

Kansas University
TAYLOR DIETMEIER: RESPONSE PAPER #1

Abstract

This paper is a result of three interviews held in Kenya discussing curriculum planning and

implementation at the local, district (called “sub-county” in Kenya), and national level.

Interviewees included 1) Nathan Mbugwa, a teacher at a private girls’ secondary school using

the 8.4.4 Kenyan National Standards, 2) Kariuki, the Quality Assurance Officer in Limuru Sub-

County for schools using the 8.4.4 Kenyan National Standards, and 3) Amy McKelvey, the

founder and director of Woodland Star School, a private international school using the Common

Core State Standards. The paper shows the stark contrast between the process for curriculum

planning due to a variety of factors such as high accountability, provision of professional

development, resources, and freedom for creativity.
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Upon entering the colorless, sterile Limuru County Quality Assurance Officer’s

workplace, I was duly informed of the rules and regulations for conducting research in Kenya’s

Ministry of Education, which require a formal letter from an accredited university, a stamped

letter of request from the professor, and approval from the Ministry of Education located in

downtown Nairobi. Approval from the Ministry takes 10-15 working days, but with the help of a

few hundred shillings, the process could take just an hour. “When you have the Ministry’s

approval letter, then we can talk,” said the Quality Assurance Officer, who is equivalent to a

district superintendent. After a few minutes of asking him about his family and cultural

traditions, I offered to buy him chai. Unbeknownst to him, I finally got my questions answered

over a cup of delicious Kenyan tea.

The anecdote profoundly epitomizes what happens in Kenya with respect to curriculum

planning and implementation. At the top, curriculum changes are made and are expected to be

implemented with little to no professional support or true accountability. The lack of

accountability – and pressure to perform – gives space for corruption and cheating at nearly

every level. In 2015, 5,000 students had their exam results cancelled and nearly 200 people,

including police officers, exam board members, teachers, and senior managers were fired or

disbanded due to malpractice during exams (Warungu, 2016). According to Joseph Warungu, a

former high-school teacher, “There is a crisis of trust in Kenyan society. The government cannot

trust the teacher to prepare the students for exams without cheating. The teacher cannot trust the

government to oversee the exams without cheating. The students cannot trust himself to pass the

exam without cheating.”

The Ministry of Education has a committee called the Kenya Institute of Curriculum

Development (KICD) that writes the standards. The KICD takes suggestions from in-service
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teachers and administrators, but the public – students and parents – are not involved in the

process of curriculum design (Nathan, personal communication, August 30, 2017). The

government pilots the program in selected schools, determines its success, and then implements

the curriculum with the support of county-level assessors (Kariuku, personal communication,

August 31, 2017). According to Nathan, a teacher who has been serving in several schools for

twenty years, he has only seen an assessor one time. When I asked if he felt like there was

accountability for new and quality curriculum implementation, he said, “Not really. Just one

District Quality Officer oversees over thirty schools. Writing an annual evaluation is just a

formality.”

Similar to how the implementation of the States’ No Child Left Behind Act resulted in

educators teaching to the test, the high-stakes tests in Kenya place immense pressure on students

and teachers to perform, resulting in instruction that emphasizes recall. As a result, many

teachers teach directly out of the textbooks. The KICD gives a stamp of approval and

recommends textbooks for schools and teachers. The Ministry of Education does not require a

certain text, but most schools assume the KICD recommends books that are going to best prepare

students for the national exams. According to one interview, the KICD profits from approving

texts and many KICD members are known for writing forwards for textbooks, assumedly for

profit (Nathan, August 30, 2017). I saw firsthand a shocking number of grammatical mistakes in

a published chemistry textbook, which was approved and recommended by the KICD.

Ironically, when I asked the same interviewee if he ever uses resources that do not have their

stamp, he replied, “Never. I only use books from the KICD.”

Kenya’s curriculum has been dramatically reformed twice and is in the beginning stages

of its third reformation, which officially began fifteen years ago. Each new curriculum was
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created in response to a need in the country’s workforce. With Kenya’s independence in the

60’s, the country hardly had any educators, let alone other professionals. According to one

educator, 75% of his teachers in the early 70’s were from the Peace Corps and the others were

from Uganda (Nathan, personal communication, August 30, 2017). The first major curriculum

reform was to combat a deficit of professionals in the country. The new curriculum emphasized

preparation for university and white collar jobs. In the late 80’s with the introduction of free

primary education, there wasn’t enough space for everyone to attend university, but school didn’t

properly equip students with practical skills necessary for technical jobs. The new curriculum

included life skills like sewing, carpentry, and agriculture. Now, after almost thirty years of

adding more courses and requirements in sciences and essentially eliminating almost all of the

life skills courses, the curriculum that was intended to prepare students for the workforce after

high school morphed into something that neither prepares them for the workforce nor for

university. Many are hoping the new system will give opportunities for “talent-based” learning,

where students can study art and music, along with science and mathematics.

Not every school that is registered by the Ministry of Education in Kenya must conform

to the country’s national standards. These schools are considered “other” and have little to no

oversight from the government. Woodland Star International School (WSS) is an “other” school,

and as they start their seventh year, they are still discovering their identity as a student-centered

school in Kenya. Around three o’clock, I entered an empty classroom with flexible seating,

colorful bulletin boards, and succulents in recycled jars on a desk. Everything about my meeting

with the founder and director at WSS contrasted my interview with the Kenyan government

official. The director at Woodland Star was warm, informative, and inspiring.
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When asked how often the school reviews and updates curriculum, she looked at me with

a puzzled look. “We are always updating and reviewing our curriculum,” she replied, as if I

should have already known her answer. “It is never the same. It never should be. The students

are in charge of the learning, so it’s hard to predict. It’s child-centered, thematic, and based on

research. The curriculum is constantly being updated.”

Woodland Star School (WSS) uses the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and Next

Generation Science Standards (NGSS) – and uses those standards for qualitative assessment.

The CCSS and NGSS are internationally benchmarked and do not require a certain method of

teaching (Myths vs. Facts). Although WSS is serious about standards, it is founded with a strong

conviction that curriculum and teaching should be living and breathing, creative and rigorous

(McKelvey, A, personal communication, August 31, 2017). WSS teachers and admin create the

school’s curriculum year by year, leaving opportunities for creativity and student-led tangents.

The staff comes up with a theme for each term in the year, always beginning with a

connections/planting theme (i.e. seeds, home) and ending with a sending theme (i.e. exploration,

growth). Each subject teacher can take the theme and interpret it however they wish in their

classrooms, applying it to the class’s CCSS and NGSS in any order. Teachers are expected to

build in different choices, and many have found that the choices students make generally inspire

them to go deeper.

Although there is an incredible amount of freedom and creativity for teachers, there is

also significant support and scaffolding as well. For new teachers, the PD team researches

resources related to the chosen theme. Each new teacher is paired with a PD expert who helps

find resources, discusses ideas, builds lessons, and coaches learner-centered instruction. With
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each new term, teacher support is decreased until the teacher is independently creating student-

based and thematic lessons.

“So this sounds like a really special school for creative and deep thinkers. Who holds

you accountable?” I asked.

“No one.” She shared that the government shows no interest in them and doesn’t appear

to know what to think of the school. The school has been looking into international

accreditation, but they are trying to choose carefully to make sure they align with the dictating

body. IB would be their first choice, but a school must be at least five years old and pay

thousands of dollars, which the school doesn’t have. “For now, we cherish our freedom,” says

McKelvey.

Visiting the websites of Woodland Star School, Common Core, and KICD gives a taste

into the dramatically different worlds of curriculum planning. Both Woodland Star and

Common Core have easy-to-access links to standards, instructional techniques, curriculum,

professional development, and research. The KICD, which is commissioned by the Kenyan

government to research, design, and implement curriculum has a website with broken links on

the curriculum and research page, and rather than hosting professional development conferences,

it posts a page for the cost to hold a conference at their facility. Unlike the wealth of information

and resources from NSTA, Nextgenerationscience.org, and the Common Core website, the

KICD does not post any resources or specific standards. One must purchase a book to see the

standards for a given subject area.

Woodland Star School and the Kenyan Ministry of Education couldn’t be any more

different in terms of curriculum planning and implementation. Yet with every interview, I

walked away with this painful realization that there might not be an answer to my conundrum:
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How does a government give standards and expectations, resources and professional

development, freedom and creativity, all while holding schools accountable to excellent

education for all?
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References

Classroom Resources. (2017, August 31). Retrieved from http://ngss.nsta.org/Classroom-

Resources.aspx

Conferences & Events. (2017, August 31). Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/conferences.aspx

Evidence Statements. (2017, August 31). Retrieved from

http://www.nextgenscience.org/resources/evidence-statements

Myths vs. Facts. (2017, August 31). Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/about-the-

standards/myths-vs-facts/

Training Courses. (2017, August 31). Retrieved from http://www.kicd.ac.ke/services/training-

courses.html

Warungu, Joseph. (2016, October 2016). What exam cheating tells us about distrust in Kenya.

Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-37658096