A debilitating three-week strike by Kenya’s estimated 250,000 public teachers was mainly about a pay rise, but a new report suggests that maybe the tutors should have added the quality of education offered to their demand list.
Kenya like many African countries is a signatory to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, one of which is achieving universal primary education by 2015.
It has made huge strides in addressing this: in January 2003 it introduced a free primary school learning programme and a million extra eager learners turned up to school.
But the increased enrolment brought with its own challenges. Kenyan teachers’ unions have for years agitated for increased hiring in their ranks, and the free learning plan only served to exacerbate the already high student-teacher ratios.
This also meant overcrowding in public schools, negatively affecting the very quality of education the learners received.
And a new report by the Africa Progress Panel (APP) has vividly painted the picture for the wider region, with many countries still struggling to push up enrolment figures.
Despite the push to meet the MDG education goal, many children of school going age do not have access to quality education, even if they are in learning institutions.
The panel has termed this as a twin education crisis that is holding back Africa’s growth.
In its progress report of September 2012, it documented that millions of children on the continent are not in school and of those that are schooling, a large percentage is failing to learn.
The Kofi Annan-led team admits that in the past decade, overall enrolment levels have increased and gender gaps narrowed as more children proceeded to secondary school throughout the continent.
“[But] many of the children in school are receiving an education of such abysmal quality that they are learning very little. Far from accumulating 21st century skills millions of Africa’s children are emerging from primary schools lacking basic literacy and numeracy skills,” the report says in part.
This is backed up by another report this year, by the civil society group Uwezo that promotes competencies of children in East Africa, basic numeracy and literacy skills of primary school children are deficient across the region.
The results of Uwezo’s survey taken in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania imply that most pupils are not acquiring basic skills during the early years of primary school as is expected in the national curricula.
The Africa Progress Panel says that though the number of children out of school in the continent decreased from 42 million in 2000 to 30 million in 2009, Africa would still have 17 million children out of school by the year 2025 because it has the highest population growth rate in the world.
It is estimated that 12 million children who have joined school end up dropping out of before completion because of a slew of formal and informal fees, the costs of textbooks and the poor quality of education.
Studies in Rwanda show that while the net enrolment ratio in primary school increased from 625.5 per cent in 1990 to 91.7 per cent in 2010, only 78 per cent of those who sign up complete their primary schooling.
Despite the narrowing of the gender gaps in schools, early marriage plays a crucial role in cutting short the education of many girls on the continent.
The report notes that over 30 per cent of girls in Niger and Chad are married off before the age of 15, while in countries such as Mali, Mozambique, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, more than half are married against their consent by their 18th birthday.
Access to education among the African pastoralists group is also still low with the women being more disadvantaged than the men are.
In Benin 87 per cent of the Peul children are out of primary school while only 10 per cent of the Afar girls in Ethiopia attend school.
The disparity of gender however does not always lean against females as seen in South Africa since 2000, where there have been more females enrolled in higher education institutions than males; an indicator that females have more access to education than their male counterparts.
APP’s study draws a direct relation between lack of education and poverty.
For instance in Ethiopia, a woman with no education has three times higher fertility rate than one with secondary education.
Ms Graca Machel, a member of the panel, says that one additional year of schooling in a poor country can add up to 10 per cent to a person’s income.
“Education has the capacity to break the inter-generational cycle of poverty. Go to any poor rural village or urban slum and you will find people who share that view,” she said.
Abolishing school fees in Burundi, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Malawi, Nepal and Tanzania has created a great shortage of teachers due to the increased enrolment figures.
Ghana has recruited retirees and volunteers to meet teacher demand while Tanzania embarked on an ambitious programme of education reform, building 54,000 classrooms between 2002 and 2006, as well as hiring 18,000 additional teachers.
Like in Kenya, most children in Zambia are getting out of primary school half-baked despite the country registering 90 per cent of the children in primary schools.
The Panel says that half of the children in the last grade are unable to meet basic literacy outcomes.
“Given the critical place of education in poverty reduction and job creation, we urge governments to deliver on the commitment to provide education for all by 2015 and to strengthen their focus on learning achievement,” Mr Annan said.
The panel suggests that if the continent is to meet the 2015 deadline then African governments need to double their current efforts.
They suggest an aggressive recruitment to meet the one million teacher deficit as well implementing policies that curb teacher absenteeism, in addition to identifying failing schools and pupils using basic learning assessment tools.
The panel has called on African governments to finance disadvantaged schools, pupils and marginalised groups.
The panel has also urged governments to open up their education systems to people who did not have a chance to go to school in their formative years.
The Annan team is urging development partners to honour their $16 billion a year commitment to aid basic education in low income economies and build on the achievements of the global partnership for education to create a world fund for education.
Other panel members are Michel Camdessus, Peter Eigen, Bob Geldof, Olusegun Obasanjo, Linah Mohohlo, Robert Rubin, Tidjane Thiam and Muhammad Yunus.