East Africa children poorly taught - report

Monday July 11 2011

Compared to the total population of pupils in

Compared to the total population of pupils in East Africa, few children can read or count, an economically debilitating state of affairs for the future. 

By Patience Ahimbisibwe


While three East African countries have achieved on school enrolment levels, majority of pupils continue to demonstrate incompetence in the two most important aspects of basic education.

A report dubbed “Are our children Learning” shows that children in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda perform poorly compared to the established curriculum standards. The report appears to hold a different tone than another one from Uganda’s examinations body, which points to a slightly brighter outlook.

Uganda boasts of approximately 8.3 million children in primary school, compared to 2.3 million before the programme in 1997. But as the report, prepared by Uwezo, an initiative to improve competencies in literacy and numeracy in East Africa, indicates, there is nothing to be proud of if majority of pupils, though in school, are not able to read and later on deal with numbers.

The tests were for Primary Two and administered to 145,730 children from 79,286 households in 2009/2010. The assessment was done on children between the age of six and 16. But findings indicate that investing in inputs alone has limited impact, and that fresh thinking focused on incentives for learning is needed. Further, it shows that children in the three countries perform poorly compared to established curriculum levels.

In Primary Three, two out of three children failed to pass the Uwezo tests for English, Kiswahili and numeracy. In Kenya, only 28 per cent of pupils in Standard 3 completed the test successfully, meaning they were able to read a story with ease.


In Uganda and Tanzania, pass rates were at 4 per cent and 8 per cent respectively. “There is a crisis of learning in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Governments are proud of their achievements in expanding school enrolments. But they should now not hide behind these achievements, and focus instead on making sure that children in school are in fact learning,” reads part of the report released last month. It adds: “Even amongst children who have advanced to Standard 7, many have not acquired Standard 2 numeracy and literacy skills.”

However, Mr Aggrey Kibenge, Ministry of Education undersecretary said issues in the report are not any different from what government has been addressing for five years. “These issues are not coming up for the first time. We have been working on book-to-pupil ratio, pupil-to- teacher ratio and the launching of Quality Enhancement Initiative project three years ago, which was to target 12 districts that are poor in attracting teachers,” Mr Kibenge said on phone.

Referring to a 2010 report released on Tuesday last week by the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) on the National Assessment of Progress in Education (NAPE), Mr Kibenge said there has been improvement with at least more than half of pupils able to read.

Although the NAPE report shows an overall 72.8 per cent proficiency in numeracy and 57.6 per cent in literacy in English in Primary Three, it still identifies that Primary Six pupils are not able to tell time on hour and minutes, read a story and comprehend, and subtract fractions, which is not any different from what the Uwezo report identifies.

Mr Mathew Bukenya, UNEB executive secretary notes that the findings in the various NAPE reports have revealed a lot about teaching-learning process and pupils’ learning achievement. Like the Uwezo report, NAPE recognises that pupils in private primary schools are performing better than those in public schools. “The results showed a decline in pupils’ achievement immediately after the introduction of UPE and also a gradual improvement thereafter,” Mr Bukenya says, highlighting an uneven curve in the progress.

However, the Uwezo report asks the three governments to face the crisis squarely and find solutions that will reflect the billions of shillings and hours spent on basic education each year by parents, governments and donors and that the learners are learning, literate and numerate. The Uwezo report notes that teacher incentives are weak, with teachers often posting high rates of absence.

It demonstrates that in Tanzania, 23 per cent of teachers are not in school on any given day and when in school, teachers spend half their time outside the classroom.
As a consequence, children are only taught two hours and four minutes a day, instead of an expected five hours. Studies from Uganda and Kenya suggest similar findings. “Reflecting on these results, one cannot but note the enormous challenge East African governments, teachers and parents face in making sure that children acquire basic numeracy and literacy skills.

These asymmetries in learning also undermine the prospects for greater cooperation and development across the East African region,” says the report. Mr Emmanuel Mugole, Uwezo-Uganda assessment Coordinator, earlier said as long as there is an individual in primary school who cannot read or deal with numbers, it is a loss for any government because money has been spent for learning to take place yet there are negative returns on it.