Kampala- A latest numeracy and literacy report shows Uganda as the worst country in East Africa with more children in primary who lack basic reading and counting skills.
Uwezo East Africa 2013 findings show there are large differences in learning achievements among the three East African countries with Kenya performing better at 68 per cent in both numeracy and literacy skills compared to Tanzania at 50 per cent and Uganda at 38 per cent.
Kenya and Tanzania shared same ranking (68 per cent) in numeracy while Uganda scored less than 50 per cent in all competencies.
According to Sara Ruto, Uwezo regional manager, although Kenya fared better than the two countries, it is home to the worst performing districts in the region demonstrated in stark inequalities.
“Many children in East Africa are not learning basic literacy and numeracy skills. Less than two out of ten pupils in the third year of primary school can read or do basic mathematics at primary two levels.”
“By the time they reach the last year of primary school, one out of five East African children still have not acquired these [numeracy and reading] skills,” Ms Ruto said at the launch of the report at Makerere University, Kampala yesterday.
The findings raise questions on government’s effort to provide quality education to all Ugandans especially in schools implementing universal education intended for children, whose parents can’t afford to pay fees.
Ms Ruto proposed that a lot of attention be put in improving teachers’ welfare since children spend their biggest time at school and are thus central in helping them acquire basic competencies needed in the job market.
The dissemination of the findings didn’t attract top government leadership in the Ministry of Education despite having been invited.
A senior Education officer, Ms Elizabeth Mutumba, who represented the ministry was reluctant to own up the findings but said a research will be conducted to inform government on how to improve on the issues raised.
“The findings are disappointing. The government will conduct a research and come up with what to do to improve on the learning outcomes. I have to report back to my seniors,” Ms Mutumba said.
Ms Zaida Mgalla, Uwezo Tanzania country coordinator, said continued failure for government officials to attend the launch of their findings even when they are invited shows lack of political will to improve the quality of education.
“There is no reason for governments to keep singing of high enrollment when the quality of education is going down.”
“… government officials have reluctantly avoided owning the findings and this is critical in finding a joint solution. It just shows lack of political will and a widened gap between the haves and have not,” she said.
Just like the Uganda National Examinations Board results released early this year, Uwezo findings established that children in urban areas outperform their counterparts in rural settings.
The report further indicates that pupils from wealthier families show stronger performance results compared to those from poor households.
‘The gap between the poorest households and the least poor is 20 per cent points in all the three countries,” the report states.
It also shows that learning out comes have stagnated over the past years since Uwezo started collecting data.
There has been slight improvement in numeracy in Tanzania and Uganda in terms of English literacy although overall, children in the region continue to face a crisis in the education system.
In an earlier interview, Dr Daniel Nkaada, commissioner for Primary Education, said financing education is a critical issue which needs all stakeholders to look at if regional governments are to achieve positive results in the education sector.
Mr Herbert Zake, Standard Chartered Bank head of corporate affairs, warned that if individual education foundation is not strong, it will be difficult for graduates within the region to compete on the global market.
To put it in perspective, in Kenya six out of 10 children aged between 10 and 16 possess both literacy and numeracy skills at primary two level compared to five out 10 for Tanzania and four out of 10 in Uganda.
The poor performance in Uganda is compounded by low funding, lack of basic education tools including text books and the general lack of interest exhibited by teachers and parents.
To support the above, the government in its Budget framework paper, proposed that capitation grant – money paid for pupils under Universal Primary Education be reduced from Shs7,000 to Shs6,800 in the 2014/15 financial year.