Time to cross from ‘education for all’ to ‘learning for all’
Posted Wednesday, October 2 2013 at 01:00
The state of EFA in East Africa should compel governments to re-direct investment towards bridging the gap between the privileged and the educationally marginalised. Governments’ mission should now focus on levelling the ground for pupils.
The commitment to Education For All (EFA) in East Africa has seen scores of young boys and girls setting foot into a classroom. Although extended access is undeniable, the quality of education is disquieting. As more children access basic education, the spurt in enrollment puts national education systems to test. Overwhelmed infrastructure, a fruitless teacher-pupil ratio and insufficient learning aids have conspired to undermine what pupils are able to learn.
While in Busia District on a mission to assess results of three projects to improve access to safe water in Buteba Sub-county, the stark reality of learning came alive. At two constructed wells in Rarak A and Rarak B and a renovated water source in Akisim, the district water engineer narrated how pupils trek more than three kilometres daily in search of safe water.
Before sanitising these water points at the initiative of five alumni of Ford Foundation’s Fellowship programme, diarrhea and typhoid, we were told, severely compromised school attendance. With these pitiful accounts, questions started hitting me. Are the pupils ensnared in such conditions able to learn even if they make it to school? What are the chances that pupils in such circumstances can compete favourably with their peers in healthier environs?
What we learned in Buteba illuminated a sharp divide between goading children into school and enabling them to learn while in class. The conditions of attending school in Buteba mirror the challenges associated with EFA in East Africa.
In Uganda, just like in Tanzania, besides a pitiable learning environment, startling drop-out rates are choking the quality of Universal Primary Education (UPE). Of 1,763,284 pupils who enrolled for Primary One in 2006 in Uganda, only 30 per cent took Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) seven years later. The 2011 Uwezo ranking of literacy and numeracy in East Africa found all the 10 worst performing districts in Uganda, seven of them in north and north east.
Beyond institutional constraints, the visit to Busia brought to life realities that stand in the way of children’s learning. At Nakasero, meals typify lunch break, in Buteba, dashing to wells to refill vessels with clean water pre-occupies pupils’ lunch. While pupils in Kampala head home to focus on the day’s homework, their peers in Buteba are jostling fierce competition at wells for safe water as those in Wajir and Turkana, Kenya, search for water and pasture, unlike their peers in Nairobi.
In urban Bukoba, Tanzania, the Uwezo assessment found that Standard Two pupils easily navigate numeracy and literacy tasks while nearly two out of three Standard Three pupils in Kahama, Mpwapwa fall short of the pass mark for Standard Two tests in the same areas. Visibly, the circumstances surrounding primary education in Buteba as in other parts of East Africa show that getting children into school is not enough on its own.
With the tales of schooling in Buteba after 15 years of UPE, the call to shift goal posts from access to learning is beckoning to ensure that children who enroll for school actually learn. As governments take stock, the state of EFA in East Africa should compel governments to re-direct investment towards bridging the gap between the privileged and the educationally marginalised. Governments’ mission should now focus on levelling the ground for pupils.
We must move from merely getting children into classrooms to ensuring learning. As American writer Alvin Toffler aptly put it, “The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”
Mr Kaheru is a commentator on national and regional development issues. firstname.lastname@example.org