East Africa seeks common ground, skills for youth, in new education systems

East Africa Governments seeks adjustments in their respective education system as one long-term solution to joblessness. But, while countries in the region consent to Modify what they teach, there is little consensus among them, some experts say.

In Kenya, the Competency Based Curriculum (CBC) may first have to pass the resistance stage. Officials say it exposes children to their career path right from fundamental level. The authorities also say that this system will build a group of learners who can choose career paths without wasting time in learning everything. This system that was launched in 2017, has been faced with complaints of high cost of learning materials, with parents most times forced to do homework with their children.

Kenya’s CBC is a 2-6-3-3-3 system, meaning pupils take two years in pre-primary level, six years in primary, three years in junior secondary, three years in senior secondary and three years in tertiary education. The 8-4-4 system which has been used in Kenya since 1985, where learners took 16 years to complete a cycle. It was faulted for just equipping students for exams rather than prepare them for world’s realities.

East African Community member countries have different education systems with learners spending between 16 years (South Sudan and Rwanda) and 20 years (Burundi) from pre-primary to university.

Focus of reforms

With this divide, experts say reforms must focus on creating the same learning environments.

Samuel Otieno, the director of the Regional Education Learning Initiative, an NGO on education policy in East Africa, says the regional states must address a common ground since the labour market may expand under integration.

“What countries such as Tanzania and Uganda are doing is incorporating 21st century expertise  into their curriculum while maintaining their system,” he said.

A push for the acceptable curriculum, he said, will align the region’s economic needs and improve the quality of education. He argued that overhauling an education system is important, but the region must focus on same things to address issues such as proper preparation for learners, localising content and training enough teachers, besides raising funding allocation for teachers.

Over the past 12 years, Rwanda has made great strides in its education system, shifting from knowledge-based to the CBC.

In Kenya, authorities say the CBC is a response to policy shift within the EAC.

“The East Africa Community Protocol 2012 precipitated harmonisation of curricula in East Africa and adoption of CBC in the region,” said Prof Charles Ong’ondo, chief executive of Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development.

The protocol stipulates that countries to adopt a competency-based curriculum to boost regional quality of education and align it with the global market expertise.

The EAC Harmonised Curriculum Structures and Framework says a uniform curriculum will foster regional integration through facilitating easy movement of learners across states.

“This will only be achieved when the education systems in the respective countries domesticate the regional goals of education, objectives of primary education and key learning competencies,” the framework says.

Kenya is at Grade Six of the new curriculum and plans to admit the first cohort of junior secondary students in January 2023 despite criticism that the curriculum is unnecessary and not well thought.

According to the Kenya’s CBC Taskforce report, at senior secondary school, learners will pursue three pathways: 60 percent stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) courses, 25 percent social sciences and 15 percent sports, science and art. Each senior secondary school should offer at least two pathways.

It is projected that in 2026, there will be 1.25 million learners transiting to senior secondary school, which calls for further expansion of the schools.


Unemployment remains a challenge in Keya, as many youth are unable to find jobs after graduation. More than 800,000 students graduate yearly from various colleges and universities with just a few securing job opportunities.

With the new curriculum, the government says students will be able to choose their preferred career paths at the senior secondary school and proceed with the path at the university and college level, giving them better chances in the global job market.

Education Ministry Principal Secretary for Implementation of Curriculum Reforms Prof Fatuma Chege said there will be a review of the secondary education placement guidelines to provide clear criteria, including the use of assessments, for placement of learners in junior secondary schools.

“The ministry has mapped all secondary schools and is progressively improving infrastructure and will provide necessary requirements for the rollout of the CBC in the schools,” she said.

In Tanzania, the debate over knowledge versus competency-based education featured in parliament during a discussion on the Ministry of Education’s 2022/2023 budget estimates.

Legislators pressed the government for planned education sector reforms, including a review of the curriculum to capitalize on technical and life skills subjects and nurture talents and vocational skills from primary school.

Education Minister Prof Adolf Mkenda tabled a budget estimate of just below Tsh1.5 trillion ($649.3 million) for the 2022/2023 financial year, which will also cover education policy tweaks and proposed amendments to the 1978 National Education Act.

According to Prof Mkenda, reforms will dwell on vocational and technical education, adding that they will cover policy, curriculum, quality of teachers, trainers and lecturers, and teaching facilities.

There have been concerns over the competency of Tanzania graduates in the job market. MPs underscored the present reality, where many students completing basic primary, O-Level and A-Level education are finding themselves unemployable.

In his presentation, Prof Mkenda said the reforms would prevent haphazard imposition of not well researched and uncoordinated changes to education sector.

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