In Summary
  • Overcrowded classrooms, lack of textbooks, teacher absenteeism and antiquated pedagogical methods that emphasise rote learning are denying students access to education and learning.
  • New research shows that the much-heralded free learning may be the Achilles' heel of our education.
  • We have a huge untapped resource in young people.  Let’s wake in 2019 to do what is necessary by shifting the population from a disastrous future to a potential population dividend.

The ultimate aim of any education system is to equip children with the numeracy, literacy and wider skills that they need to realize their potential, and that their countries need to generate jobs, innovation and economic growth.

These were words of Kevin Watkins in his January 16, 2013 article titled, Too Little Access, Not Enough Learning: Africa’s Twin Deficit in Education, published by Brookings Institute.

CHALLENGES

Overcrowded classrooms, lack of textbooks, teacher absenteeism and antiquated pedagogical methods that emphasise rote learning are denying students access to education and learning.

New research shows that the much-heralded free learning may be the Achilles' heel of our education.

A 2014 study, An Investigation on Impact of Free Primary Education on Quality of Education in Kenya Primary Schools, published in the Journal of Education and Practice, by Wilfred Njeru, Moses Muiruri, George Njeru, and Ruth Thinguri, revealed that whilst enrollment had gone up, the teacher student ratio and access to textbooks still was wanting several years after the implementation of the programme.

Since 2008, there is much we now know that explains why more reforms are necessary. These reforms must start early on in education as Watkins noted in his study:

The early childhood years set many of Africa’s children on a course for failure in education. There is compelling international evidence that preschool malnutrition has profoundly damaging – and largely irreversible – consequences for the language, memory and motor skills that make effective learning possible and last throughout youth and adulthood. This year, 40 percent of Africa’s children will reach primary school-age having had their education opportunities blighted by hunger. Some two-thirds of the region’s preschool children suffer from anemia – another source of reduced learning achievement.

CRITICAL STAGE

In 1980 President Moi introduced what became to be known as Nyayo School milk program. This forward-looking policy that was fully funded by the government helped many children not only to escape stunting but also gave them a chance to cope with learning.

Research, including that by Watkins, now confirms that even though Kenya experiences similar problems as other African countries, it is better off with very few (less than 10 percent) learners who fall below the learning threshold when compared to other African countries with more than 50 percent of learners falling below the learning threshold. 

This small gap is indeed large in absolute terms and the reason why we need reforms urgently to make the country competitive.

Although we know that the early childhood education is most critical in the learning life, we appear to pay no serious attention to this critical stage. 

Teachers at this level do not have the required training. Their teaching approach is largely by rote learning often through songs that have no meaning in life. 

In most countries, early childhood (before age eight) education is provided by teachers with degrees in early childhood education and who understand how to develop a creative mind.

Experts say that this is the period when the brains of children develop faster than at any other point in their lives, urging that these years are critical.

They emphasise that the foundations for social skills, self-esteem, perception of the world and moral outlook are established during these years, as well as the development of cognitive skills.

TRANSITION

In secondary school, although the government claimed in 2017 that transition from primary had hit 100 percent, the picture is different.

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