Why does it seem like we have been here before? Students being given homework to make things, do things, rather than just answer questions in a book. Parents scratching their heads trying to find time to do their day job and work with and supervise their children as they do their homework. Parents still scratching their heads trying to figure out how to further stretch the-already-stretched money they have to buy materials and do activities their children have been assigned as homework. And then of course teachers who always seem to be consulted when it is already too late, if at all. Haven’t we been here before?
In the 1980s, when the 8-4-4 curriculum was first rolled out, I remember seeing younger relatives who were in primary school cutting and sewing materials to make a shirt or tablecloth as homework. Today, students who are doing the Competence-Based Curriculum (CBC) cut and sew things, or are assigned an activity outside their home and school, as homework.
In high school, I remember teachers juggling teaching us, of the A-levels system that was on its way out, and the first class of 8-4-4 high school students, all in the same day. And they did that without a syllabus to follow the 8-4-4 students. Believe it or not, by the time the first class of 8-4-4 students were getting to Form 3, there was no syllabus. The teachers had no clue whether they had adequately covered the subjects they taught. And yet their students were a year away from final high school exams.
This year’s CBC Grade 6 cohort will be the first ones to go to the next stage, which is junior high school. With a month or so left it is still unclear whether their junior high classrooms are ready. In recent months, top officials have been assuring us that the construction of junior high classrooms is on track and they will be ready by the end of the year.
You and I know that is government-speak for ‘‘we are way behind schedule and we are hoping for the best’’. Because you and I know that if the classrooms were close to ready, those top officials would not be “inspecting ongoing work” or complaining about how long construction work takes as they have been doing. Be ready for the junior high school muddle. Showing January 2023.
As the cartoon character Yogi Bear would say, it’s déjà vu all over again.
It was not supposed to be this way. When the 8-4-4 curriculum was rolled out in the 1980s, its broad premise was to address a major weakness of the A-level system. Decades-long experience had made our policy makers and decision makers conclude that the A-level system prepared students for white collar jobs and nothing else.
Yes, at the O-level, or ordinary level section of the system, a boy learnt carpentry or how to work with metal. This was for the first year only. Continuing wood work (as carpentry was called) or metal work as an examination subject was optional and not many people made that choice. And if a student graduated to do A-levels, or advanced level, there was no advanced wood or metal work to study.
For girls, the practical subject at O-levels was home science or economics. It was not taught at the advanced level. It was in home science or economics classes that girls were taught cutting and sewing, among other things. Boys were not taught home science or economics.
This is why when the 8-4-4 curriculum was rolled in the 1980s, my younger relatives were busy cutting and sewing away at primary school. Both boys and girls cut and sewed, no gendering of roles in 8-4-4 like in the A-level system. This is also why subjects like agriculture and business studies were taught in high school in the 8-4-4 system. In an 8-4-4 class, agriculture meant reading about it (types of soils and so on) as was the case in the geography and biology classes of the A-level system. But in addition, in the 8-4-4 system, students sowed, weeded and grew crops to apply what they had read.
In the early days of the 8-4-4 system, students were supposed to be able to leave school at Standard Eight or Form Four and be comfortable working on a farm or in a workshop or try out a business idea without feeling diminished because they were not working in an office. The 8-4-4 curriculum was not originally designed to push students to rote learning and excelling in exams to the exclusion of everything else. The premium placed on exams in the A-level system was another drawback of that system the 8-4-4 one was supposed to change.
Now we are told CBC is supposed to do away with rote learning, among other weaknesses of the 8-4-4 system, and yet its implementation has been botched.
Why do we do the same thing over again and expect a different result each time?