THE world marked the 51st International Literacy Day last week with the revelation that Kenya is among countries that has made slow progress towards attaining literacy levels.
Unesco had set 2015 for countries to attain 50 per cent literacy, but as things are now, Kenya appears to be far from achieving it.
A survey by the Kenya National Literacy Survey conducted in 2006 revealed that there were over 7.8 million (38.5 per cent) adults and youth who lack the minimum literacy levels.
The survey identified arid and semi arid areas, largely inhabited by nomadic communities, as having the lowest literacy rates.
Another report released recently by Uwezo Kenya paints a grim picture of Kenya on Education for All (EFA) Goals. This is despite making good progress in some areas such as enrollment. EFA are six internationally agreed education goals that were aimed at meeting the learning needs of all children, youth and adults by 2015.
Although progress has been made in terms of enrollment, particularly into early childhood education, quality, however, remains a big challenge particularly in the northern part of the country and arid areas, says Uwezo's annual report titled Are our Children Learning?
On adult literacy, the organisation says in some areas, half of the mothers in households visited, could not read a class two story. The report further says that in literacy and numeracy, young Kenyan children are not mastering the required skills expected in schools.
Speaking in Makueni during the event to mark the literacy day, Education CS Jacob Kaimenyi said the ministry is now developing new strategies and approaches to enhance regional parity in literacy.
The CS said the ministry has proposed the expansion of the mandate of the directorate responsible for adult and continuing education, to not only provide literacy skills and knowledge to youth and adults, but to also inculcate positive attitudes to the children, out-of-school youth, adults and older people through various alternative approaches to literacy and other forms of basic education.
“This will enhance access to basic education and the acquisition of relevant knowledge. They will also be empowered with technical and vocational skills, values and attitudes, to manage their resources and preserve of our cultural heritage,” he stated.
Kaimenyi also noted that there was a shortage of adult instructors. And to address the problem, he said the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development will review the curriculum for training the adult literacy instructors and ensure that they are equipped with the right skills to effectively and professionally deliver the content using appropriate methodologies.
Currently, the enrollment for adult education and literacy programmes stands at 231,305 (158,374 females and 72,931 males) by June 2015. Homa Bay County has the highest enrollment at 12,399 learners and Taita Taveta and Isiolo counties recording the lowest enrollment below 1,500.
On young learners, the report by Uwezo Kenya noted that although the country has made efforts on enrollment, worrying patterns of low educational attainment, were noted. “To break the cycles, it is imperative that expanding access must be accompanied with measures to improve quality,” the survey suggests. This, it adds, will ensure that children in school attain optimal outcomes.
The findings, says the report, begs the question: How is it that despite all the investment we are making, and with higher enrollment, better attendance and more teachers, learning outcomes are not improving?
The government has, however, come up with some programmes such as Tusome — which employs a new approach to teaching, increased teacher support and supervision as well as improved learning environment. There is also Tayari — which seeks improvement in children's readiness to learn, working with pre-school children to enhance literacy skills.
The findings say a higher number of children in urban schools can read compared to those in arid areas. “A child in Westlands (Nairobi) is 15 times more likely to read an English story than a child in Kyuso (Kitui),” says the report.
Kaimenyi said it was worrying that Unesco has projected that by 2015, 26 per cent of all illiterate adults will live in sub-Saharan Africa, up from 1 per cent in 1990. “This situation is really worrying because there is a clear connection between illiteracy and severe poverty, environmental degradation and prejudice against women," he said.