Curriculum Development: What are some of the criticisms for the new mathematics programme?



9a iii). Provide potent criticisms for the new mathematics programme

Criticism of New Mathematics Programme

In many countries, the new mathematics has provided a field day for cartoonists, monologists, and polemicists. Some of the criticisms have been insightful while others have been penetrating. It is worth mentioning that several people in Kenya have written in the past about the shortcomings of the new mathematics. Several years ago the following criticisms on the new mathematics in Kenya have been identified.

The new mathematics syllabus and the textbooks being used are far too difficult for the average child in this country and the content is extremely demanding to both the student and the teacher. The texts are best suited to the top students, especially those who will continue in mathematics beyond the high school. Little attention has been devoted to the average and below average and below average student. The fact that primary and secondary school education is terminal for the majority of our school population dictates that school curriculum should be tailored to this group and not to the academic extroverts.

The applications of mathematics were largely ignored. Mathematics should derive from the application to the real world or it will lose its vitality one of the shortocomings of the new mathematics curriculum in Kenya is that it was left largely in hands of expatriate staff who could not translate their good intentions into reality for the Kenya child.

Rigour, precision and symbolism were overdone in both SARA and in the KRM textbooks and sometimes become an end in themselves. Two effects of this were:

  1. A decline in interest on the part of students whose concern are more practical and
  2. A peculiar form of notational mockery among some students, teachers and examiners (if you cannot use the symbol you do not know basic mathematics).

The conceptual emphasis was so great that teachers would incorporate appropriate computational skills in their instruction. The teachers did not do this and hence the public outcry about the incompetence of the school children in performing simple computational operations.

Both the primary and secondary school syllabus was overloaded. Most teachers complained that there was so much work to be done that they had no time to try out new techniques in their teaching.

The language use in the SMRA and in the KPM textbooks was generally difficult for most pupils. This has often led to inadequate understanding of the subject matter.

Lack of curriculum diffusion between those who develop curriculum at K.I.E and teachers. The curriculum developers failed to communicate to classroom teachers what they were trying to accomplish. There were as significant inservice training programs for teachers who were supposed to teach new mathematics. As a result, many of the mathematics teachers were no better than their students. Of course the new texts were well taught by good teachers buy in the hands of poor teachers it was a complete disaster. There was no evaluation of the new mathematics both at primary and secondary level. This long-term effect of changing from one type of curriculum to another was therefore not evaluated.

The Gachathi Report of 1976 spelled out in details the objective of education. This commission was assigned the task of investigating the quality of education in Kenya. Primary education has been accused by members of the community that is lacked quality, content and relevance and therefore it was not catering sufficiently for the majority of our children for whom primary education is terminal.

In an effort to fulfil this responsibility, the government decided to introduce far reaching changes in Kenya’s Primary Education Programme (PEP) which took into called primary and relevance. The development of PEP started in 1997 and in progress was the piloting of materials for standard one to five. Piloting of other classes followed this until they were all covered. The development of PEP was based on the premise that:

  1. There is need to improve the quality, content and relevance of primary education so that it centres more effectively for the majority of children for whom primary education is terminal.
  2. Primary education should be made available to all primary school age children.
  3. Primary education should be broadly based and lead to the development of competencies in a variety of practical skills.
  4. Primary education should concentrate on the needs of the majority who terminate their education at the primary school level while bearing in mind the needs of those who will continue to the secondary ant tertiary cycles.

The programme consisted of three phases:

  • Designing of a primary and primary teacher education curriculum programme and production of curriculum materials.
  • Implementation of the primary and primary teacher education programme into all the primary schools and primary teachers colleges.
  • Summative evaluation of the programme

The Mackay’s Report of 1981 which was presidential working party on the second university recommended among other things the major changes to 8-4-4 system of education.

The essential elements of the new system are in the area of structure which have 8 years of primary, 4 years of secondary and 4 years minimum university education. In the area of curriculum, content is oriented towards technical education and movement away examination centred.

The preparation of the curriculum for the 8 years primary cycle was patterned on similar lines to the primary education project popularly known as PEP which was by then being developed by the Kenya Institute of Education.

The most significant aspects of PEP with the 8 years of primary education are:

  1. Focus on the entire primary education
  2. Relationalization of primary education
  3. Reorganization of subjects into broad curriculum areas with common objectives
  4. Introduction of new subjects to meet identified needs no presently adequately catered for.

The curriculum is organized on two broad on two broad cycles:

  • Lower primary cycle (std. 1-3)
  • Upper primary (std. 4-8)

Lower primary (std. 1-3)

The main emphasis at this level is the development of numeracy and literacy


  1. Mother tongue (including Kiswahili where it is used as a mother tongue). Mother tongue is also used as the medium of instruction.
  2. English


  • Mathematics
  • Science (integrating agriculture, home science and general science).
  • Social Studies (integrating geography, history, civics and social education).

Religious Education

  • Christian Religious Education
  • Islamic Religious Education

Creative Arts:

  • Art and Craft
  • Music
  • Physical education

Upper Primary (std. 4-8)

The main emphasis at this level is the development of practical skills to prepare children for the world of work. The subject to be followed are:


  • Kiswahili
  •  English – also used as the medium of instruction


  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Home Science
  • Social Studies (incorporating Geography, history, civics and social education).

Religious Education

    • Christian Religious Education
    • Islamic religious Education

Practical skills education:

  • Agriculture
  • Art Education
  • Craft Education
  • Business Education
  • Music
  • Physical Education

In an attempt to relate primary education to the development of life oriented skills, a new cluster of subject known as practical skills was introduced in primary education. this was adapted after extensive consultation and discussion in preference to occupational skills Education that had been used earlier. The latter is considered to be presumptions and gives the impression that at the end of primary education the pupils will have prepared for a job or occupation. The most that can be expected to be achieved within the primary cycle is the building of a solid education foundation with some practical skills on which the pupils can build after leaving school.

a. Standard 8 Curriculum

According to the primary education (PEP) project plan for std. 8 piloted in 1986 and were to be available for use in all schools until 1989 as the earliest. Therefore, to facilitate the implementation of the 8:4:4 program in 1985, an interim curriculum program for std. 8 replaced by PEP materials until it was completely phased out.

The interim curriculum was based on existing curriculum areas, that is, the subjects as they appeared on the current primary timetable. And not as proposed by PEP. However, not unduly penalized as they a waited for the completion of the development of PEP materials. Care was taken to ensure that the transition from std. 7 to 8 in the interim period was smooth.

A new examination was developed and used in 1985. The details of the examination were worked out alongside the development of the interim curriculum. A new examination was also developed through PEP.

b. Secondary Education Cycle

The presentation of the secondary education cycle was made by the Director of Higher Education, who made the following

That secondary education should take off from the cut-off point of primary education and hence down to standard VIII.

  1. That current from own work should not be pushed down to standard VIII.
  2. Stds. VII and VIII will need to be diversified.
  3. The development of an elaborate secondary education curriculum is to take into account the basic preparation offered in the primary education cycle, hence it has to await the completion of the development of the 8-year primary education curriculum
  4. The secondary education curriculum is to be based on the terminal level of the primary education cycle
  5. There was a need for continued close cooperation and liaison between the Ministries of Basic and Higher Education in the implementation of the 8-4-4 education system.

That there was a need for agreement with the University on the terminal level of secondary education particularly on what aspects of the current KACE academic work should be retained in secondary education and what aspects should move to the university.

There was a need to examine the various issues relating to the secondary terminal examination, and certification, as well as the nature, level and duration of the various post-secondary training programs.

c. Four-year University Education Cycle

The vice-chancellor of the University of Nairobi made the following presentation on thee university Education Cycle. He made the following comments:

He reported that the senate in its discussion last year on the 8-4-4 education had raise several points regarding.

  1. The level at which secondary school leavers will be selected for University entry.
  2. What would be covered in the extra university year.

He noted that university education in East Africa is currently based on ‘A’ level academic preparation and that recommended change to 4-year secondary education is very fundamental.

The working party on the Second University did not go into details of the changes University Education. It recommended that it should be more practical in its approach.

Graduates were to be practical oriented and aware of general development issues and strategies. It was also recommended that the B.Ed. programme at Kenyatta University should be reviewed to make it richer in content.

He noted that while University Education must continue at the present leve of competence, there were mundane implications of lengthening the duration of University Education.


In this lecture, we have been able to discuss curriculum changes that have taken place in Kenya’’ educational development. Specifically, we have stated that changes in curriculum in Kenya go away back to pre-colonial and colonial ear. In 1963, the New Primary Approach was very popular as an innovation in schools. NPA did not last long in the system due to a number of factors.

Science Education programme for Africa, the Kenya Primary mathematics project, and other similar projects were introduced after independence.

An important change that has occurred in the History of our educational development in Kenya has been the introduction of the 8:4:4 cycle system of education.

Activities 36

  1. Discus some curriculum changes in Kenya between 1960 and 1966. Read more on N.P.A and give your views on why the project failed.
  2. Examine the criticisms against the Kenya primary maths. Why was the programme criticized so strongly?
  3. Which areas in the 8:4:4 syllabus that you consider to the new and which ones are not? Give reasons for your reactions.



  1. Beecher Report 1949.
  2. Ominde Report 1964
  3. Gachathi Report 1976
  4. Readings in Curriculum Development in Primary schools in Kenya by Jack G. Okech and Prof. Hugh Howes. 1986.
  5. New Primary Approach. NPA by Sifuna D.
  6. Mackay Report – 2nd Ed. (1981)
  7. The 8:4:4 System of Education



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