The ringing of the word CBC, an acronym for Competency-Based Curriculum, isn’t strange to our ears. It still reverberates. It’s been sung, written about, aired on various media channels where analysis experts disagreed and enlightened each other, spoken about during gatherings, and vehemently debated both on the streets and in parliament. The lingering question was—is CBC right for our children? And after all was said and done; after the government appointed committees to dissect the matter and shine light on the path our nation should take; after facts emerged from the depths of research the country went into, CBC won. 8-4-4, the former education system, was waved goodbye.
There are two key ingredients in the CBC system:
- life skills
However, for CBC to nurture these in our children, all stakeholders – more so parents and teachers – need to work together. The responsibility doesn’t only belong to our teachers.
To find out more about the importance of life skills and values, and the role of teachers and parents, I interviewed Mr. Kennedy Kyeva. He is not only the headteacher at Kangemi primary school but he also sits on the management committee of Kenya Primary Schools Head Teachers Association (KEPSHA) as the national treasurer. KEPSHA is an umbrella body comprising head teachers of public primary schools in the country. They work towards unity and to ensure every child in Kenya receives the best education management.
Are life skills the same as values?
Mr. Kyeva explains the difference between life skills and values.
“In my view, values set the foundation for the growth of life skills. Without the values, the skills and competencies will not thrive. The growth of life skills requires a sound values system.”
“And what are life skills?” I ask.
“Life skills are the skills necessary for full participation in everyday life. Without them, we won’t function effectively. CBC calls these core competencies for life, or 21st Century skills. They include communication, collaboration, imagination and creativity, citizenship, learning how to learn, digital literacy, self-awareness, self-management, self-efficacy, empathy, sympathy, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, inter-personal and intra-personal skills; and even the ability to accept criticism, manage stress and keep time.”
“Values,” Mr. Kyeva says, “Are the foundation on which life skills grow.”
They include integrity, empathy, respect, love, gratitude, kindness, tolerance, peace, etc. The values, which can be personal or work values, determine how you use your skills; whether for a good or a bad cause. In Mr. Kyeva’s words, “Skills and competencies minus values can be a disaster.”
The importance of nurturing life skills and values in our children
I inquire from Mr. Kyeva why it is important that we nurture life skills and values in our children.
“Look at the graduates our institutions of learning produce,” he starts. “I’ll give you an example. At KEPSHA, we have had corporate CEOs and lecturers come to speak to us. Almost all of them lament how they take in graduates with wonderful grades, but the trouble comes when they get into the work itself. These graduates lack patience and tolerance. They lack communication skills, the ability to learn, self-management, creative thinking and other life skills. And I ask myself, what, really, should we be looking for when hiring? Because most of the graduates we have went through all the units and excelled yet they cannot perform at work.”
“Clearly, there’s a problem,” I tell him. “Do you mean that because they lack life skills they are not ready for the job market even though their grades are colourful?” While posing this question, I recall a line from the book Stir Up Your Potential by Steve Muthusi; that we live in a generation of coloured papers but faded people. Accountants we cannot count on. Bankers we cannot bank on. Mathematicians who cannot solve relationship problems.
Mr. Kyeva has an answer for me. The years of experience have opened his eyes to see the fly in the ointment.
“The 8-4-4 system never taught life skills like patience, self-drive, stress management, and resilience. The good news, though, is that the CBC goes for less knowledge and recall (cramming) and leans heavily on competencies and skills. But one thing that breaks my heart is how key policymakers want to handle it.”
“And how do they want to handle it?” I urge him on.
“Currently, there are ongoing deliberations to reduce, or let me call it to water down, the life skills taught in CBC. I think there is already a recommendation by the presidential working party to reduce CBC’s workload in Junior Secondary, and do you know how they propose doing that?”
“No. Please tell me.”
“In all the twelve basic learning areas of Junior Secondary, they want to remove life skills and values as a stand-alone area of study and have it as a single topic, what they call a ‘strand’, under the subject of Social Studies. Can you believe that? What are we doing? Why are we mutilating CBC, a baby we just conceived and gave birth to; a baby who should grow and help not only the current generation but also the future one?”
The role of teachers and parents
When I ask Mr. Kyeva to explain the role of teachers and parents in nurturing life skills and values in children, he quotes the studies of Erikson on the physiological and psychological growth of children, ‘the growth of a child begins from birth to eighteen months’.
Mr. Kyeva explains that this is the period children learn to trust or distrust. It is here that parents should show a lot of love to the baby even though it cannot really understand when you talk to it. And this should not stop after eighteen months. No. From there on, parents need to always respond to the child’s distress. It helps in raising a well-balanced child.
He recommends that the government organises parenting lessons where parents are taught skills on how to accelerate the education of a child because we lose their growth (in matters of learning) from a very young age.
These sentiments call to memory a passage in the bestselling book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell, using research conducted by sociologist Annette Lareau, paints two distinct parenting pictures. One parent is ‘removed’ from the growth of their child, leaving the heavy lifting to ‘natural growth’ and the responsibility to teachers. In contrast, the other parent is ‘heavily’ involved in the development of their child; talks things through with their child, reasons with them, and expects their child to talk back to them and question things. The book gives an example of Christina, a parent who while driving Alex (her nine-year-old son) to the doctor, turns to him and says, “Alex, you should be thinking of questions you might want to ask the doctor.” She then adds, “You can ask anything, don’t be shy.” And due to this encouragement from his mother, Alex does ask the doctor questions.
Unfortunately, especially in our African culture, we teach our children to be quiet and submissive.
And to teachers, Mr. Kyeva puts a heavier weight on school heads because “the personality and leadership of the head dictate how the rest of the teachers handle children. Let the school heads prioritise values, and then life skills, and finally the course content. Or else we will groom another generation of public money swindlers and poor leaders”.
Mr. Kyeva continues to advise, “While the government has a role to play, as teachers let us not wait for their help. We must organise parent-teacher meetings where we infuse lessons and skills to invoke a sense of responsibility in parents to also help in the growth of life skills and values in their children. We have the resources to get this done, and we can always work with programs like ALiVE (Assessment of Life Skills and Values in East Africa), who are experts at assessing life skills and values in our children and have even formulated a tool and a report backed by evidence on where we stand. I am pleased to see a vibrant team that understands what needs to be done. They should get support from all of us, including KEPSHA, the Ministry of Education, and the country at large. I cannot commend them highly enough, and I encourage them to keep going.”
The formulation of an assessment tool for life skills and values
In April 2022, Zizi Afrique, a non-governmental organisation based in Kenya that champions the improvement of learning outcomes for children and youth furthest behind came together with 70 other organisations that saw the urgency to improve the quality of education in East Africa. These organisations are under the umbrella of the Regional Education Learning Initiative in East Africa (RELI). RELI has three thematic clusters: Values and Life Skills, Equity and Inclusion, and Learner-Centred Teaching (LCT).
Zizi Afrique is involved in all three thematic clusters. Dr John Mugo, the Executive Director at Zizi Afrique, is also the Principal Investigator of ALiVE, a project falling under the Values and Life Skills (VaLi) thematic cluster. ALiVE is an apt name, considering the task at hand. It stands for Assessment of Life Skills and Values in East Africa.
The ALiVE team members put their hands on the plough to get the work ahead done. They first came up with an assessment tool for life skills and values in adolescents and then used it to assess a total of 17,276 adolescents aged between 13 and 17, covering 14,197 households from 798 enumeration areas in Kenya.
Whereas this article is about the assessment in Kenya, the assessment exercise was regional, covering Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania mainland and Zanzibar. Regionally, a total of 45, 442 adolescents were assessed.
(The writer of this article wrote, last year, about the process and efforts that went into the development of the assessment tool and the assessment itself)
The findings after the ALiVE assessment of April 2022
After the intensive assessment by the ALiVE program, a report titled Do Our Children Have Life Skills and Values? was published later in the month of November, the same year. According to Dr. John Mugo, the whole exercise was worth it. And while there’s more that still needs to be done, the findings have set us paces ahead in the journey. Dr. John Mugo refers to the report as “a product of collaborative work among more than 2000 people across Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda—a contextualised tool developed through a learning-by-doing approach.”
The report for Kenya indicated key findings on the levels of life skills and values among adolescents. The findings are as follows:
- Respect: Overall, 6% of adolescents could act respectfully towards others, meaning they could both interpret bad behaviour as a lack of respect for others and take conciliatory steps. The majority (52%) could interpret bad behaviour but fell short of acting respectfully.
- Self-awareness: Overall, 9% of the adolescents surveyed could regulate their emotions and reactions, and were aware of the multiple ways that others might perceive and react to situations. On the other hand, the majority (70%) of the adolescents could control their emotions but were unaware of how others might perceive and react to situations.
- Problem-solving: Overall, 5% of the adolescents surveyed could recognise the existence of a problem from multiple perspectives and know that there may be multiple solutions (to evaluate and select from) to the problem. The majority (55%) could only recognise the existence of a problem from one perspective but were unable to identify multiple approaches to solving the problem.
- Collaboration: About 10% of the adolescents could collaborate by taking positions and contributing ideas; prompting others; and being attentive to the input others had to offer. A majority (47%) of them could collaborate through speaking, being attentive in discussions, and engaging actively in performance tasks. They were however unable to take a position, contribute ideas, or prompt others. Further, 34% of the adolescents were attentive and could question the views of others. They however fell short when it came to contributing in words and actions.
The above statistics, however, do not mean that our children completely lack life skills and values – they just fall short of exhibiting them with proficiency. There is therefore room for improvement through nurturing them.
Where do we go from here?
ALiVE has succeeded in developing an assessment tool and in providing evidence of where we stand as a country when it comes to matters of life skills and values in our children. That, however, isn’t enough. How do we move from just having a tool and evidence to forging a future where all our children have the needed life skills and values to not only survive but also thrive in the 21st-century world? According to Mr Kyeva, the Western countries beat us (Africans) when it comes to education because they have prioritised life skills and values in their children. A turn of tide is however expected, with teams like ALiVE who wake up every morning to work towards new solutions that will improve core competencies in our children.
The ALiVE report puts forward a call to action by raising questions all stakeholders should find answers to. The questions are:
- How can we collaboratively support the development of the 7 core competencies under the Competency-Based Curriculum?
- How will our teachers acquire the needed capacities to develop life skills and nurture values?
- How do we support families and communities with the capacities needed for developing life skills and nurturing values at home?
- How can we support schools in creating the environment needed to develop life skills and nurture values?
- How will the wider society support the practising of values for children to emulate?
While there is hope in the findings of the report, the gap is still undesirable. It is necessary that we strengthen life skills and values in our children, otherwise, we will have a generation unable to navigate the challenges of the 21st Century.
The journey has only begun. We have mountains ahead to surmount. The onus is on us, as a nation, to bring all education stakeholders together and task them with reducing the gaps in the findings of the report. We are like painters with a masterpiece (the future of our children) in mind, but we need to hold brushes in our hands and paint the desired picture.
Read the full ALiVE report here, which breaks down the percentages of the findings further, in terms of gender and counties.