The new competency-based curriculum (CBC) system of education is set to come under sharp scrutiny in a planned mock national assessment for Grade 5 learners, which will offer a glimpse into how they will transition to junior secondary when they sit the actual Grade 6 test next year.
The Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec) will pilot the cumulative assessment targeting 18,088 learners in 210 schools across all the 47 counties between September 27 2021 and October 1 2021. The pilot test will be conducted in sample schools covering all categories, and comes at a time when the curriculum is facing increased criticism over the cost of its implementation on parents and government's preparedness to fund necessary infrastructure.
The actual assessment will however take place in November next year, when the first CBC cohort completes the primary school cycle to join the proposed junior secondary school.
According to the Knec chief executive David Njeng'ere, the pilot is aimed at preparing the council for the final assessment and identifying possible loopholes before learners undertake the actual test.
"It is important because it is the first time such an assessment under the CBC will be administered. We want to test whether the tools we have prepared are good enough to give us the kind of results we expect or do we need to re-calibrate them? We can't wait until the learners are in Grade 6," he told Nation.
The Elimu Yetu Coalition National Cordinator, Joseph Wasikhongo, welcomed the pilot test but warned that the government should not turn a deaf ear to challenges that learners, parents and schools are facing in implementing the new system.
"The pilot is a good idea but the elephant in the room for CBC remains awareness. CBC can be as expensive as you want it to be and as cheap as you want it to be but teachers and parents don't know that. We're in a capitalist society and inequality is inevitable but what are we doing to address it in CBC?" posed Mr Wasikhongo.
The learners will be tested in all learning areas they currently study but organised in five papers, the same way they will be examined at the end of Grade 6. These will be: English, Kiswahili, Mathematics, Integrated Science (science and technology, home science, agriculture, and physical health education), Creative Arts and Social Studies (art and craft, music, social studies and religious studies).
Since the learners are currently in Grade 5, they will be tested only for content they have covered so far. The scores from the pilot will not be part of the learners' performance records.
Each of the papers will be scored at 40 per cent. The score a learner gets from the summative assessment will be added to the 60 per cent scored in formative assessments at Grade 4, 5 and 6 to make up 100 per cent. For Integrated Science and Creative Arts and Social Social Studies, the papers will be scored out of 60 but later converted to 40 per cent.
The Grade 5 learners did the first assessment in March, which was marked by teachers and scores uploaded to the Knec portal. The Nation understands that the council has analysed the results and is finalising on the performance report.
The Daily Nation can also reveal that the assessment will adopt the multiple choice format, unlike the other school-based assessments where the learners have been assessed through tasks like projects and oral tests.
"We looked at practicality in terms of time and resources since Knec will print and deliver the papers," a senior official at Knec said. She explained that since learners will have already been assessed through other methods, multiple choice questions would be appropriate. The marking will also be done at the examinations body.
However, learners pursuing the special needs education stage-based curriculum will not be assessed through multiple questions but assessment tasks that will be marked and scores reported by their teachers.
After the pilot, the sample papers that will be used will be made available to all other schools for them to familiarise with the format. They will also be uploaded on the Knec website.
"This is for equity and it will also diffuse tension and feelings that some schools may have an advantage over others," Dr Njeng'ere said, adding that the pilot will test the tools and not the content learners have so far learnt.
Teachers handling learners the pilot assessment will be given questionnaires to give feedback on their observations.
"We want to know whether things like, was the time allocated enough? Are the questions appropriate to the age of the learner and can they answer them correctly?"
Knec has already dispatched circulars to sub-county directors of education informing them of schools that will be involved in the pilot, but Dr Njeng'ere insisted that the learners do not need to prepare since it is not an actual examination.
According to the Basic Education Curriculum Framework, CBC ought to reduce emphasis on examinations, which have been a high stakes affair under 8-4-4 system currently being phased out. It is yet to be seen, however, how parents, learners and teachers approach the new assessment since the final score a learner gets will still be used for placement to junior secondary school.
Competition for top-performing schools has been stiff over the years. The fight for slots is most fierce for national and extra-county secondary schools, although the majority of learners end up in county and sub-county schools.
The pioneer CBC class will join junior secondary school in January 2023 when there will be a double-intake with the 8-4-4 class currently in Standard 7. Key stakeholders have faulted the government for not doing enough to expand infrastructure in secondary schools to accommodate high enrolment as well as equipment for the new learning areas.
The Teachers Service Commission last month, in an advisory to universities, indicated subject areas that need training of more teachers. Teachers in secondary schools have not yet been trained on CBC, with just over a year before it rolls out in the segment.
Next year will be busy for Knec as it will administer more tests than the usual two. The Kenya Certificate of Primary Education and the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education will be administered in March and April and again in November and December. In addition, there will be school-based assessments for Grade 3, 4 and 5 in March and again in November, including the summative for Grade 6.