Competence-Based Education: A Pragmatic Solution to Unemployment in Kenya

Published on 3rd November 2020

Unemployment is and remains to be one of the biggest challenges facing many countries all over the world. 
A research carried out by the International Labour Organization earlier this year reveals that an overwhelming 267 million young people aged 15 to 24 are not in employment, education or training.

This trend can be attributed to a myriad of factors including unsustainable economies that do not favor job creation, flexible career paths and rapid growth of the labor force. Also, skill imbalance resulting from misplaced college courses not ideal for the current job market and an outdated education system that does not support learner acquisition of entrepreneurial, technical and vocational skills are unemployment contributing factors.

In addition, the majority are studying careers laden with theoretical knowledge that has little or no relation to the actual activities or tasks they anticipate to face on the job.

In turn, employers continue to be cynical about jobseeker’s ability to supply knowledge and skills to practical challenges at the workplace. The situation is worsened by the fact that employers not only question the social skills and work ethics, but are also reluctant to invest resources in training jobseekers whereas there are many experienced workers who are unemployed and available for hire. 

In pursuit for our children to go through education that is beneficial to them, governments through their education agencies have revolutionized education and curriculum from the theoretical to a practical based, known as Competency Based Education (CBE) and also devised Competence Based Curriculum (CBC). 

While CBE and CBC may appear novel in Kenya, the idea of the competency-based curriculum dates back to 1957 in the United States. It was developed as US government reactionary policy to the Soviet Union’s technological advancement following the launch of the first satellite. In Australia, CBE and CBC was introduced in 1990 to address weaknesses in the skills level as the country turned to technology as the backbone of its economy. 

In Africa, CBE and CBC was pioneered by South Africa in 1998 as a strategy to change the attitudes of her people, and equip them with a set of skills, understanding and personal attributes fit for confounding issues in the 21st century. This trend continues to be emulated across Africa as countries like Rwanda and Kenya rolled out their competency-based curriculum in 2015 and 2017, respectively.

This new education system is designed to develop learners’ full capacities by impressing on them the value of lifelong learning even as they are equipped with skillsets on technology, creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship.

In Kenya, the impetus for education and curriculum reform was that the 8-4-4 system is too rigid, theoretical and out-of-sync with job market demands and misses to align basic education with children’s career interests, aptitudes and abilities. It was also a recognition of global drift toward knowledge-based economy that demanded an education system that is flexible and adaptable to a dynamic labor market. 

Three years after CBE and CBC launch, the new curriculum is lauded as more practical oriented; skills-based and tailored to daily life and work environment. The shift promises to make our labor force competitiveness globally as learners increasingly focus on 21st century skills:

a) Lifelong learning,

b) Creativity and Innovation,

c) Communication and Digital Literacy,

d) Critical thinking and problem solving, and

e) market-oriented skills. 

Our learning institutions, from basic to vocational and higher education, continue to embrace competency-based education and training (CBET) forcing a shift away from knowledge memorization toward development of competencies and skills. This means that our education is less interested in “what do learners know” but more interested in “what can learners do with what they know.” The shift has seen learners’ school work become project-based activities, experiential learning, and activities that involve group-based research, debate, discussions and presentations.

The shift to CBET in our higher learning and vocational colleges is focused to address skills mismatch that have for long impeded smooth school-to-work transitions for many young people. Besides, it has introduced several industry customized short period courses that will enable learners and employers to get competencies and skills they urgently need and mode of delivery allows for furthering studies with multiple entry and exit in different programs. The certification for CBET is based on demonstration and mastery of competency and basic skills needed to enter the world of work with confidence. 

The ongoing education reforms not only plays a critical role towards supporting the development of competent human resources for all sectors’ growth and sustainable development, but also ensures that the smooth education‐to‐employment transitions reduce unemployment, increase incomes and improve quality of life for many.

By Zack Kìnùthia 
Chief Administrative Secretary Ministry of Education


This article has been read 1,209 times