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‘ARE OUR CHILDREN LEARNING?’ REPORT SAYS EAST AFRICA’S PUBLIC EDUCATION LEAVES A LOT TO BE DESIRED

Uwezo learning reportThe quality of primary school education in East Africa is wanting, a new report has revealed.

According to the findings of the report titled Are Our Children Learning? Literacy and Numeracy Across East Africa released by Uwezo, despite the significant increment in the number of children accessing primary education, actual literacy and numeracy outcomes remain significantly deficient across the region.

The report observes pupils are not learning core skills expected at their age and grade level. For instance;

(a) More than two out of every three pupils enrolled at Standard 3 level in East Africa fail to pass basic tests in English, Kiswahili or numeracy set at the Standard 2 level.

(b) Improvements in basic literacy and numeracy occur only slowly as children progress through the education system, implying that the quality of learning remains low throughout primary school.

PUPILS ACQUIRING LOWER PRIMARY SKILLS IN THE UPPER PRIMARY

The study further indicates that by the time pupils reach the last year of primary school, one out of five East African children still have not acquired the basic literacy and numeracy skills but notes that some end up acquiring some basic skills, in their later years in the education curriculum.

“The biggest learning leaps occur in upper primary level between Standards 4 to 5, and Standards 5 to 6 suggesting that many children are acquiring Standard 2 level skills in the later years of their primary education,” the study observes.

KENYA PERFORMS BETTER

Compared to her East African counterparts, Kenya is reported to perform better in the average test scores regarding the basic literacy and numeracy skills. Ugandan children perform worst in the lower levels but slowly overtake Tanzanian children and outperform them from Standard 6 onwards.

In Kenya, six out of 10 children aged 10 to 16 possess both literacy and numeracy skills at Grade (Primary) 2 level, while in Tanzania five out of 10 do and in Uganda the figure is four out of 10. .

The pass rate of Kenyan children on the English test is more than double that of Tanzanian children (39 percentage points higher), and is 29 percentage points higher than children from Uganda.

Ironically, Kenyan children outdo Tanzanians in the Kiswahili test, even though Swahili is widely spoken in the country than in Kenya. 20% more Kenyan children aged 10-16 pass the Kiswahili test compared to children in Tanzania.

URBAN DWELLERS AND THE RICH PERFORM BEST

The report indicates that children from urban areas outperform their rural peers and also that children from wealthier families show stronger learning outcomes than those from poorer households. At age 10, for instance, the pass rate among the non-poor (33%) is twice that of the poor (16%) and three times that of the ultra-poor (10%).

The Uwezo learning assessment surveys began in Kenya in 2009, followed by Tanzania and Uganda in 2010. These constituted the first round of the Uwezo surveys (referred to as “Uwezo 1”). The surveys were conducted again in all three countries in 2011 and represent the second round of the exercise (referred to as “Uwezo 2”).

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO REVERSE THE TREND?

Uwezo recommends among other things for respective governments to experiment and test out new ideas and focus on learning outcomes instead of educational inputs. “Among the public and policy makers alike, education is often characterized in terms of physical inputs such as classrooms, desks and books, as well as human inputs such as numbers of qualified teachers and enrolled pupils. While these aspects can no doubt contribute, the ultimate measure of success that should focus all our minds should be learner abilities, i.e. not how many desks are there but can Juma read.”

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