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Report card on EA pupils out...and Kenya leads Uganda and TZ

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Nairobi Primary School pupils at a reading contest: Quality education will help East Africa build its skills base. Picture: File

Nairobi Primary School pupils at a reading contest: Quality education will help East Africa build its skills base. Picture: File 

By CHRISTINE MUNGAI and MWAURA KIMANI

Posted  Sunday, July 3  2011 at  11:58
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If you are a middle-class child in Kenya, you are more likely to complete your education and have better basic numeracy and literacy skills than a rich child in Uganda or Tanzania.

However, if you are a poor student in Kenya, you will be worse educated than a similar child in Uganda or Tanzania. These are the stark findings of a survey by East African education think tank Uwezo conducted in June, which evaluates the state of literacy and numeracy in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

For example, in Kenya, 31 per cent of children from poor households in Standard 3 passed the numeracy test, as compared with 28 per cent of children from the wealthiest of households in Uganda who passed this test.

At least 19 per cent of Kenyan children from the poorest households passed the English test, as compared with 16 per cent of children from the wealthiest households in Tanzania who passed this test.

Starker still than the disparities between countries and between rich and poor is the revelation that educational quality is alarmingly low. Poor quality education is steadily eroding East Africa’s skills base, severely undermining the hopes of industrialisation in the next few decades.

Despite a steady increase in primary school enrolment across the region, the majority of children do not gain even Standard 2 level skills until they are almost finished with primary school. Many never learn these skills at all.

“Even though Kenya is ahead, as a whole the region is doing quite badly. It’s like a house with a hopelessly weak foundation,” said Dr Sara Ruto of Uwezo, adding that urgent measures need to be taken to improve the basics of numeracy and literacy.

The study did not cover Burundi and Rwanda, the new members of the East African Community, whose education systems are not yet as similar as those in the other three EAC nations.

The study on the state of primary schools found that Kenya’s schools impart the most knowledge. And in the three tests — Kiswahili, English and numeracy — Kenya’s pupils came out on top, followed by pupils in Uganda.

While focusing on education, the study offers fascinating insights into the economic and social disparities in the three countries.

Heavy penalty

The underlying message of the report is that children from well-off families reap many rewards, and those from poor families pay a heavy penalty.

The education outlook in East Africa therefore depicts the vulnerability of the poor in the region and the growing stability of its emerging middle class, which has driven up consumption and precipitated a construction boom of shopping malls, coffee shops and residential apartment blocks in the major cities.

Most opinion polls show that among East Africans, Tanzanians are the most cautious about regional economic integration, particularly the proposed East African Political Federation.

The sceptics in Tanzania say deeper regional integration leads to other East Africans “stealing” their jobs, and possibly taking away their land.

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