The ALiVE homestretch: Pointing Forward to Contextualized Assessment of life skills and values

In 2009, I joined Egerton University to train as an educator. Among the many subjects I studied, and one that stood out for me, was the History of education. In that unit of study, I was introduced to the Ominde commission; The different education acts, the dynamics that brought in the 8-4-4 system of education, among other critical issues.

This far, I was already quite familiar with 8-4-4, having been a beneficiary of the same in the previous levels of the system. But like many of us I had not understood the 8-4-4 blueprint and was basically just going through the motions. In fact, I could not tell whether or not the 8-4-4 curriculum was exam-oriented as was widely indicated in various discourses. It was, therefore, not until the introduction of the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) that I started interrogating the 8.4.4 system through which I had been inducted or initiated into matters of learning and with which I was acquainted.

I have taken time to study CBC and its spirit, and I feel it is way better than the past education systems in Kenya, 8.4.4 included. But just like other Educational systems around the world, CBC is facing considerable challenges such as educating learners to high levels of competency at a time when the country is experiencing moments of uncertainty. Additionally, if you listen to many critics of the CBC, they argue that it is quite expensive, quite heavy on the learners and parents as well as resource-intensive.

It is worth noting that CBC is a very evolved system of education that has come at a very timely moment. The world is increasingly changing on diverse fronts against a background a fast pace of technological advancement. That calls for a 21st-century individual who has developed the ability to act creatively, independently and to adjust to concomitantly with the dynamics brought about by the changes. In this regard, researchers in the field of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) have indicated that competences such as problem-solving and critical thinking, communication and collaboration, self-efficacy, among others included in the CBC are quite relevant for a more progressive future world, and that they have a positive influence in the learning and life outcomes.

Notably, parents and researchers like me, especially those working under the Assessment of Life Skills and Values project in East Africa (ALiVE) are, however, more concerned about core competences introduced in the curriculum with little or no clarity on how to assess if learners have reasonably mastered them.

The foregoing challenge of assessment is already attracting the attention of various interest groups. And so far, a group of 47 members under the Assessment of Life Skills and Values project in East Africa(ALiVE) have been working day and night to develop contextualized assessment tools for life skills and values. As a basis for developing the assessment framework, ALiVE, a Regional Education Initiative, sought to answer questions in three main thematic areas, namely:

  1. Understanding life skills and values-We must acknowledge that many people use different words to mean probably the same thing. For Instance, many people from the West use Social, Emotional Learning; others use Soft skills, Non-academic skills, Non-cognitive skills, 21st Century skills, while others like us in East Africa use Values and Life Skills (VaLi). A study by Echidna Giving in 2018 revealed that in East Africa, there lacks a common understanding of these skills, leave alone understanding on how to develop or measure them. VaLi members have hosted learning workshops aimed at understanding these competences and trying to determine whether or not all these different terms refer to the same thing.
  2. Contextualized assessment: It is clear that many assessment frameworks that exist are mainly developed for the West and only a few, if any, are developed for the developing world. Hence, the ALiVE project was designed and envisioned as an assessment that speaks to East Africa adolescents. The contextualization process kicked off with an ethnographic study that was conducted in 15 districts in East Africa where adolescents between the age of 13-17 years, their parents, and teachers were required to share their local definitions and understanding of certain skills such as self-awareness, respect, problem-solving, and collaboration. It was evident from the study that the contextual definition defers a great deal from the documented literature definition or what is accepted globally.
  3. Nurturing of life skills and Values: VaLi members have been interacting with teachers, caregivers, and communities to learn what works in nurturing these competences. They have designed modules, and hopefully, they will use the contextualized assessment tool to confirm if the interventions are working.

In 2022, the ALiVE team will generate evidence on life skills and values by collecting data from over 30,000 adolescents from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. The data collection will commence officially on 1st of April. This is a household assessment that targets in-school and out-of-school adolescents. As we celebrate this year’s International Day of Education, we acknowledge the efforts by the team of 47 East Africans under the Tool Development Academy. For they braved hard sessions, working offline and online disconnected by Covid-19. The resilience and commitment demonstrated by the team is a perfect example of what it must take for us to survive the tides of “Changing Course Transforming Education.” Be on the lookout for more details and findings proceeding from the labour of the team, among other partner players.

It must be appreciated that ultimately the person who bears the biggest responsibility of his/her life is the child. I, therefore, wish all East Africa’s children a year full of positivity. And as ALiVE team, we undertake to do all within our power to facilitate their acquisition of the competences they will need to live a fulfilling life.

Writer- Dr. Purity Ngina, is our Research and Assessment Manager. For feedback, send an email to

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