THE CONTEXT OF CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT IN KENYA
Ruth N. Otunga and Charles Nyandusi
Moi University, Eldoret, Kenya
Curriculum development is both a technical and social process. In order for the process to
proceed effectively and efficiently, the context in which it is carried out must be
considered. This paper discusses the context of curriculum development in Kenya by
considering six major factors that influence the curriculum development process in
Kenya. These are: political forces, the socio-economic context, the cultural context, the
ICT context and the networking context.
Curriculum development may be generically conceived as an amalgamation of various
processes employed in the pursuit of certain set goals in a school system. It covers the
entire spectrum of curriculum construction. This ranges from initial conceptualization
and planning to design and implementation to evaluation and revision.
Curriculum literature abounds with models of curriculum development. Each of these
models advocates procedures and strategies that are presumably most effective in
developing curriculum. However, curriculum development models appropriate for one
situation may be impractical in another. This is because the curriculum is a social
construct and diverse societies do not hold universal views (Hopkins, 2001). It is
therefore important to consider context when developing curriculum.
Much of the literature on curriculum context deals with context relevance (Tyler, 1949;
Bonser and Grundy, 1988; UNESCO, 2000). Context relevance is concerned with the
fidelity of the curriculum to its stated goals. The premise here is that the stated goals are
a true reflection of what society expects from the school system.
This paper will however, view context from a slightly different perspective. Context here
is concerned with the environment in which the curriculum is developed. In other words,
context is the summation of the factors that influence the curriculum development
process. The contextual focus for this paper will be the public school curriculum of
Kenya : A brief educational introduction
Kenya attained independence from British rule in 1963. The country inherited its
education system from the British colonial education system. Since independence, the
government of Kenya has continually sought to modify the curriculum to achieve context
This has been done through two major avenues; One, periodic commissions constituted
by the government to look into aspects of the school system and suggest better policy and
practice. Two, constant curriculum development programmes handled by the Ministry of
Education and related agencies (Shiundu and Omulando 1992, Kinuthia, 2009). This
paper will dwell more on the second avenue.
The Ministry of Education in Kenya is responsible for centrally providing educational
services in the country. The ministry’s vision is “to provide quality education for
development” while its mission is “to provide, promote and co-ordinate lifelong
education, training and research for Kenya’s sustainable development” (Ministry of
To achieve its vision and mission the ministry has several departments and directorates
and a number of Semi-Autonomous Government Agencies (SAGA) under its auspices. For
curriculum matters, the mandated SAGA the Kenya Institute of Education (KIE) (Ministry of
Curriculum Development in Kenya
The Kenya Institute of Education (KIE) is the national educational research and curriculum
development centre in Kenya. Its functions include:
1. To conduct research and prepare syllabuses for all levels of education, below the
2. To conduct research and prepare teaching and evaluation materials to support any
syllabuses, including the preparation of books, teachers guides, mass media programmes
3. To conduct in-service and workshops for teachers and teacher trainers who are involved
in carrying out experiments and trials of any syllabuses and teaching materials.
4. To conduct seminars on any syllabus and teaching materials for inspectors of schools and
5. To conduct orientation programmes for field officers and to keep them informed of the
developments that are taking place in the school and teachers’ college curriculum.
6. To develop and transmit programmes through mass media to support the developments
that are taking place in education.
7. To prepare distance education courses for students, teachers and the general public.
8. To conduct courses, seminars and orientation programmes for the guidance of teachers
and educational administrators.
9. To conduct educational research in Kenya.
10. To publish and print educational materials (KIE, 2009).
The Kenya institute of Education works closely with other related agencies and organizations in
curriculum development. These include the Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC)
which is responsible national public examinations, the Kenya National Union of Teachers
(KNUT) which represents teachers at KIE, the Directorate of Quality Assurance and Standards
which is responsible for curriculum supervision and quality control, the Teachers Service
Commission (TSC) which handles teacher recruitment, promotion and placement, and religious
organizations whose views are sought regarding the teaching of religious education and other
ethical-moral issues in the curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2008).
The Curriculum Development process at KIE follows a cyclic pattern as shown below:
Factors Influencing Curriculum Development in Kenya
A number of factors that influence curriculum development are discussed here. These are
not all the factors; they are just those deemed to be most salient in characterizing the
Kenyan curriculum context. Neither are these factors discussed in any order of
importance. As a matter of fact most of these factors overlap and converge at some point.
These factors are very broad, so they will be presented here only in outline form.
In The Politics of the School Curriculum, Dennis Lawton observes that curriculum
development is about selecting “the most important aspects of culture for transmission to
the next generation. One of the of the crucial questions to ask is the political question:
“who makes the selection”(Lawton, 1980. p.6).
In Kenya, as elsewhere, politics occupy a central place in the daily affairs of the nation.
The political class seeks to control and manipulate the polity, either overtly or covertly.
Education is normally a covert tool in the stratagem of the political class (Freire, 1972).
The influence of politics in curriculum development in Kenya is best seen through the
formation of various education commissions, committees, and working parties. Since
independence, there have been seven major commissions on the school curriculum. The
composition of these commissions is largely oblivious of expertise in curriculum; rather,
it mostly exhibits political connectedness. Moreover, the findings and recommendations
of most of these commissions are implemented at the discretion of the ruling elite. In
most cases, these commissions end up being just grand academic exercises since their
recommendations are never adopted (NtarangwI, 2003)
Due to the centralized, all powerful nature of the politics in Kenya, most decisions on
education are top-down. Such a power-coersive approach does not aurgur well especially
for curriculum development which should ideally be a deliberative, consultative, and
participatory exercise (Mutch ,2001) It must be noted here that the government of
Kenya, through the ministry of education, has devolved some powers in the education
sector to the grassroots. These include the hiring of teachers and, to some extent, the
financing of educational infrastructure through the Constituency Development Fund
(CDF) (Ministry of education, 2004). However, all matters pertaining to curriculum are
still centrally controlled by the Ministry of Education and its agencies, mainly KIE, the
Directorate of Quality Assurance and Standards and the Kenya National Examinations
Obviously, in such a scenario, teachers feel left out. Their voice is seldom heard since
their participation in the whole process is superficial. The teachers’ role is narrowed to
implementation of curriculum. However, as Fullan (1991) notes, the implementation of
curriculum innovations is bound to be unsuccessful if teachers are not involved in the
entire process of curriculum development.
Socio – economic context
The current population of Kenya is estimated at 36 million with an annual population
growth rate of 2.3% of the total population, 60% are youth under 30 years (UNESCO,
2008; World Bank, 2008). This necessitates that the government allocates over 30% of its
annual budget to education (Kinuthia, 2009).
Despite such a seemingly huge budgetary allocation to education, curriculum
development is still poorly funded (KIE, 2006). This is because most of the funds in the
education sector go for recurrent expenditure at the expense of research and development.
In the last seven years, the government has embarked on Education for all (EFA)
initiatives by introducing free primary Education (FPE) in 2003 and free Secondary
Education in 2008 (Ministry of Education, 2004, Oketch & Rolleston, 2007). Ideally,
these are two giant steps in the right direction. Realistically, however, achieving both is
giant challenge of the county. Kinuthia (2009) outlines four factors that illuminate this
challenge and its implication on curriculum development.
1. When FPE was introduced, the enrollment significantly rose from 5.9 to 7.2
million. However, most schools were not equipped to handle such large numbers
in terms of number of teachers, physical classroom space, and learning resources.
This scenario replays itself in the Free Secondary Education programme.
Obviously, it jeopardizes effective curriculum implementation.
2. In 1998, the government instituted structural adjustment programmes
recommended by the World Bank and IMF. A direct consequence of this was a
freeze on the employment of teachers by the Teachers Service Commission. This
resulted in a significant shortage of teachers. Since 2003, the government has
made efforts to address this shortage. However, to date, there is a need for over
60,000 teachers to fill the gaps in the school system.
3. The government reliance on donor funding means that local priorities are not
necessarily dealt with. As already noted, research and development activities are
less funded than administrative and recurrent costs. Thus, for instance, teachers are
paid salaries to implement the same old curriculum.
4. Some socio-cultural practices and absolute poverty in many areas in the country
affect full participation of learners in the school system. Although enrollment rates
have improved, especially for girls, many communities still hold back their
children either due to cultural reasons - like the presumed vanity of educating the
girl-child, or economic reasons - like engaging the children wage learning
activities to supplement the family income.
Although Kenya is a unitary state, it comprises over 42 ethnic groups. Each of these
groups has its own unique cultural identity which it guards jealously. The centralized
nature of the Kenyan curriculum may not always accommodate the diverse cultural
norms of the population.
Still on ethnicity, Kenya has a history of ethnic tensions. The most recent and worst
manifestation of these tensions was experienced just before and after the 2007 general
election. The inter-ethnic violence that followed the election virtually changed the social,
cultural, political, and economic landscape of the country. Invariably, this had
implications on the curriculum.
There are now calls for the inclusion of peace of education, with a strong component of
conflict resolution, in the school curriculum. Instructively, a new core subject, Life Skills,
was introduced in the curriculum in January 2009. This subject is supposed to deal with,
among others, the concept of living together harmoniously. This is notwithstanding the
fact that there are already subjects like Social Studies in the primary school, and
Religious Education and History and Government in the secondary school which deal
with similar if not the same themes.
Instead of tailoring single subjects to ensure cultural context relevance, the entire
curriculum should be transformed “to give children, youth and adults the type of quality
education that promotes appreciation of diversity, richness, and dynamism of our
cultures...” (UNESCO, 2000, p 27).
The role of ICT in education cannot be over emphasized. The world is going the digital
way, and education is at the forefront of this journey. Yet Kenya is still lagging behind.
According to Kinuthia (2009), computers were introduced in Kenya in the 1970s and the
internet became available in 1993. By March 2008, only 7.9% of the population had
access to the internet. While the number of internet service providers continues to grow,
access is still limited, especially in the rural areas.
Kenya has close to 20,000 secondary schools of which only about 15% have electricity
and only about 500 schools have computers albeit with limited internet access. In the
secondary school sector, out of about 4000 schools, 65% are connected to electricity.
Only about 750 schools have an average of 10 computers each although internet
connectivity is limited (Kinuthia, 2009).
Another challenging factor in the ICT context is the preparation of teachers. Few teachers
in the school system in Kenya are computer literate, and even fewer can competently use
a computer as a teaching resource or a tool for instruction (Kinuthia, 2009).
Thus all efforts towards integrating ICT in the curriculum must be comprehensive enough
to provide the requisite infrastructure and prepare teachers adequately to use it
The legal context of curriculum development
The legal mandate for Curriculum development in Kenya’s public school system is
vested in the Kenya Institute of Education. This is spelt out in the Education Act, Cap
211 of the Laws of Kenya. KIE’s legal status as a Semi-Autonomous Government
Agency (SAGA) is defined in Legal Notice No. 105 of 1976, with amendments made in
Legal Notice No. 144 of 1980 and Legal Notice No. 126 of 1984 (KIE, 2009).
The legal mandate of KIE is limiting in several aspects. Firstly, since it operates as a
SAGA under the Ministry of Education, its funding is majorly from the Ministry’s
allocations in the national budget. Such funding caters mainly for recurrent costs and very
little goes to curriculum research and development, which is the core function of KIE
Secondly, the KIE sources most of its technical personnel from a sister agency, the
Teachers Service Commission (TSC). In essence, such officers remain employees of
TSC, and hence work according to the TSC Code of conduct and terms and conditions.
Such a situation is problematic. KIE needs to have its own personnel, loyal to it and no
other employer, and working under its terms and conditions (KIE 2006).
Thirdly, while KIE is mandated to develop the curriculum, yet another sister agency, the
Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC), has the legal mandate to carry out a very
crucial aspect of curriculum evaluation: examinations. One of the most telling indicators
of the incongruity of this situation is the fact that KNEC produces syllabuses just as KIE
does. And since examinations are such a crucial component of schooling in Kenya,
teachers at times find the KNEC examination syllabus more preferable to the more
comprehensive KIE syllabus. This could explain why, for instance, a non-examinable
core subject in the school curriculum, Physical Education (P.E) is largely ignored in
Fourthly, the curriculum that KIE develops for the school system is supervised by
officers from the Directorate of Quality Assurance and Standards in the Ministry of
Education. It is a case of giving birth to a baby and letting a neighbour nurture it. The
competency of the Quality Assurance and Standards Officers in curriculum supervision
may be compromised by their lack of training specifically in curriculum development.
To streamline the functions and activities of the KIE, there is need for re-defining its
legal status to give it more power over curriculum development. A useful starting point
would be to change it from a SAGA to a fully fledged state corporation. (KIE, 2006).
Networking and linkages
We have already noted that in developing curriculum, the Kenya Institute of Education
works closely with other organizations. It has also emerged that at times some of these
organizations’ activities compete against rather than complement those of KIE. The case
for harmonizing this situation has already been stated.
However, there are other linkages that could directly benefit the curriculum research and
development efforts of the KIE. Kenya boasts over 10 schools of education in both public
and private universities. All these schools have, in their libraries and archives, thousands
of publications containing data and empirical findings on diverse curriculum issues. If
only these findings could find their way to the KIE, some of the energy and resources
used in KIE’s own curriculum research and development activities could be saved. Even
more important, there is an urgent need for formal collaborations between curriculum
researchers in institutions of research and higher learning and KIE.
Another linkage that is missing in the KIE network is that of employers. In 2001, a study
on the perception of employers in Kenya on the relevance of the school curriculum to
employment was carried out. The study found out that employers are dissatisfied with
the preparedness of school graduates for the world of work. Further, the employers
indicated a strong willingness for participating in curriculum development, but they
haven’t been involved. (Nyandusi, 2001).
In discussing the context of curriculum development in Kenya, a number of factors that
influence the Curriculum Development process have been considered. These include the
political, social –economic, cultural, ICT. Legal and networking contexts. In order for
curriculum development in Kenya to proceed efficiently and effectively, these contextual
factors have to be taken into account.
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