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‘CBC is not the education that the children of Kenya deserve’, Dr. Wandia Njoya

Dr. Wandia Njoya, Senior Lecturer at Daystar University and Social-issues Blogger

University lecturer and blogger Dr. Wandia Njoya has been on the forefront in criticizing the new Kenyan Competency Based Curriculum (CBC).

Below is her speech that was delivered recently on a forum organized by Elimu Tuitakayo National Education Conference on 6 – 7 August 2019 at the All Africa Conference of Churches – Desmond Tutu Conference Centre, Waiyaki Way, Westlands, Nairobi, Kenya.


Thank you for inviting me for this forum where you discuss education, a topic that is close to my heart. I wanted to apologize for not being able to join you, until I remembered that I am not able to attend precisely because I am engaged in doing the work of the same education that you have gathered to discuss.

This conference is memorable for me, because this is the first time in my experience that I have heard of a public conference to discuss education. I would have preferred that the topics of the conference be more easily accessible by the public, topics such as “Why do we educate?” And “what kind of graduates do we want?” Nevertheless, I appreciate this forum and your invitation.

Unfortunately, the topic you have given me to discuss, that is, education systems that have worked elsewhere, is outside my purview. I came to the public discussion of CBC not as an education expert, but as a teacher who was “tayad” of seeing disempowerment in my students’ faces.

Dr. Wandia Njoya, Lecturer and Blogger

But instead of addressing this, the government has been giving us irrelevant curriculum to save its face. I started studying the CBC because I wanted to confirm that indeed, the government had understood what the education system was doing to children and wanted to stop it.

Unfortunately, I was wrong.

So perhaps, instead of asking where CBC has worked, the more important question is for whom it has worked, and how.
As I have indicated in several other forums, CBC is not a new approach to education. As Chris Gallagher informs us, the idea of CBC began in the 19th century in the West, where manufacturers wanted workers who were human enough to know how to create work and therefore income for the industrialists, but they were not human enough to demand their rights as workers or as human beings. The American comedian George Carlin put it better this way:

“The owners of this country don’t want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. You know what they want? They want obedient workers. People are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paper work, and just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shittier jobs with lower pay, the longer hours, and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it.”

CBC returned in the 1970s for a brief moment in the US, when the federal government gave funding incentives to schools to implement it. CBC then returned to the US about five years ago, when tech billionaires imagined that having a very narrow and individualized curriculum was the best way to promote their tech products. This idea is where Kenya’s own laptop per child project came from.

So CBC is designed for short-term training of workers. In Europe, it is used among refugee and immigrant communities who need to be integrated into the community as fast as possible with skills they can use to earn a living. In other words, the adults are assumed to have basic human abilities of cultural identity, values, communication and social skills, and all CBC is doing is giving workers tools for the work place.

So you see, CBC is not for children. Children need their communication, knowledge and thinking developed before handing them a job to do in at least 10 years to come. But CBC does not care.

Here is an example of how CBC does not care. In CBC, the goal of a language class may be that by the end, a child should write a poem. CBC does not care whether the child has the vocabulary or grammatical skills to write the poem, or whether the child has content to write, or what the child feels and wants to translate into poetry. CBC transfers the responsibility for these background skills to the parent, or to Google, to teach. Worse, CBC does not want the child to be exposed to poetry by other people, because, as the market says, any knowledge and skill that does not fix taps or build bridges is a waste of time.

Dr. Wandia Njoya, Lecturer and Blogger

Essentially, CBC can be summarized as this: it is a system that takes short cuts and dumbs us down.

Cui bono: Who benefits from CBC?

Based on what I have said so far, one would think that every Kenyan will scream that CBC should be immediately thrown out of our education system. But that is not the case. Even within Elimu Tuitakayo, many of us don’t want to take a stand against this system. We are going back and forth, shuffling and tip toeing around the issue, trying to negotiate with government, or as is the case with religious leaders, openly supporting the government.

Why is this?

Because the government is lying and doing double talk, and we don’t know how to refute them. We don’t know our history, our educational history, and global politics well enough to be able to tell KICD that they are simply lying to the Kenyan people. KICD is involved in double talk. They are telling Kenyans what Kenyans want to hear, not the truth. In other words, they are doing PR, and even by his own admission, KICD CEO Dr. Jwan says that the only thing KICD hasn’t done well is PR.

To understand why I keep disagreeing with KICD, it is important to understand this simple point I am making: KICD is preaching water and drinking wine. What it is doing does not deliver what it is promising.

Let me give two examples.

Example one: KICD has been telling Kenyans that CBC involves teachers paying individual attention to children. When Kenyans hear this, they understand that each teacher will pay attention to each child’s progress and intervene in each child’s problems. By the way, we teachers have always aspired for that. We have just been handicapped by rigid bureaucracy and large class sizes. But I digress.

When KICD says “parental involvement,” they mean something different from what Kenyans are hearing. KICD is requiring very personalized information and excess homework from pupils and their parents, essentially laying the groundwork for transferring teaching from the human teacher to the computer. Children are now being told to go to Google to get information, which is to essentially say that our children can raise themselves by consulting the internet. In CBC, individual attention means consulting Google. It is a very dangerous social order KICD is proposing here, but which they refuse to be held accountable for.

Example two: KICD has been telling Kenyans that CBC involves parents more than before. When Kenyans hear this, they understand that teachers will be keeping parents up to date and intimately involved with their child’s progress in school. However, what KICD is saying is different from what Kenyans are hearing. CBC is transferring homework to the parents, essentially turning parents into teachers.

Dr. Wandia Njoya, Lecturer and Blogger

And again, it is a very dangerous social order that KICD is proposing here. First of all, KICD is bringing the inequalities in society into the classroom. In a normal education system, the goal is to mitigate, not entrench, social inequalities. But second, the government is abandoning and undermining education as a social enterprise, where the village raises the child. Instead, the government now says that the nuclear family alone will raise the child, and then the child will raise herself.

Grounding in reality

So in a nutshell, this is an answer to the question I was given to answer:

We must stop looking outside Kenya for answers about our education. It does not matter where CBC has succeeded outside Kenya. What matters is that we have an education system that is grounded in reality, both of Kenya and the outside world. But CBC is NOT grounded in reality. It is grounded in the fantasies of employers and global capital, who think that all we require is education for the hands, and that education for the mind and the soul is a waste of resources.
It no longer matters what we think of CBC. The government has decided to go ahead anyway. What matters is what the Kenyan people will say to the government.

My feeling so far is that we will say nothing. We will negotiate, we will plead that CBC needs time, and we will do anything to avoid telling the government that CBC is not the education that the children of Kenya deserve. I have no fear saying this, and I will keep saying it: CBC is not the education that the children of Kenya deserve.

Thank you.


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