The quality of learning in primary schools was Tuesday questioned after a report showed that only one in every three pupils has basic literacy and numeracy skills.
And although Kenyan pupils emerged better performers than those from Uganda and Tanzania, the situation was described as "being the best of the worst".
According to the annual Are Our Children Learning ? report, less than one third of pupils in class three across East Africa passed basic tests in literacy and numeracy set at class two level.
By the time they are enrolled in class seven, the report said, two in every 10 pupils still did not have class two level competencies.
“Despite significant gains in expanding access to primary schooling, actual literacy and numeracy outcomes remain significantly deficient across the region,” Dr Sara Ruto, head of educational lobby group - Uwezo East Africa - said.
This is the third consecutive year that Uwezo has released an assessment of teaching and learning in schools in the region that have consistently indicated low levels of learning in the institutions.
Some 350,000 children in 150,000 families across the three countries (320 districts) were tested.
Like in other years, the report indicates that Kenyan children performed relatively better than their counterparts in Tanzania and Uganda on tests on basic writing, reading and computing numbers.
Ugandan children performed worst, but overtook Tanzanian pupils by the time they were enrolled in class seven.
“Those from lower socio-economic households perform worst in all in all three countries while those from the private schools do better than those in the in public schools, particularly in Tanzania,” it said.
In the numeracy test, children were asked to recognise numbers and count, as well as perform basic calculations.
The tests were set according to the class two level curriculum for each country meaning that one would expect pupils attending class three or above to correctly answer the entire test question.
A literacy question gauging reading and comprehension competencies in English language was also administered.
The language is taught as a subject in the three countries and is tested at the primary leaving exams in both Kenya and Uganda.
Additionally, in Tanzania and Kenya a further literacy test was administered in Kiswahili.
“Children were asked to recognise a letter of the alphabet, read a word, read a paragraph, and read and comprehend a short story,” the report said.
Head of the Kenya Primary Schools Heads Association Joseph Karuga said teachers lacked adequate skills to transfer knowledge to the learners noting that teacher training colleges needed to do more.
“Today, most teachers are not addressing the question of how learners actually learn,” Mr Karuga said, adding that teachers were not addressing the actual needs of the learners.
The Uwezo report calls for testing out new ideas in teaching and learning.
“The basic mode of classroom pedagogy today in most schools has not changed much over the decades,” it said adding that focus should be placed on outcome of the learning and not input.
“… the ultimate measure of success that should be learners’ abilities - not how many desks are there but can Juma read?”