Invest in mothers and the unborn to secure Africa’s future

A mother feeding her children at Kanagoni primary school IDP camp.Photo Alphonce Gari
A mother feeding her children at Kanagoni primary school IDP camp.Photo Alphonce Gari

Later this week, Uwezo will launch the annual learning assessment report. Previous reports have shown learning levels are low and remained static, less than one-third of children in class three posses basic numeracy and literacy skills. Why are our children not learning?

What is most disconcerting, however, is that learning results are lower in rural, arid and poorer households across the country.

Pass rates in numeracy and literacy were highest in Nairobi and Central Kenya, and lowest in counties such as Wajir, Turkana, Garissa, Mandera and Tana River area. Moreover, 90 per cent of the mothers in poor arid and semi-arid counties could not read at the level of a class two pupil, compared to less than 30 per cent of mothers in Central Kenya counties.

According to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey report of 2014, children of mothers who are illiterate, or did not complete primary school education, are more likely to be stunted than children born to and raised by mothers with secondary or higher education.

The high prevalence of stunting converges with mothers’ literacy levels and low levels of learning achievement among children.

Our research on spatial patterns of inequality at the East African Institute suggests that stunting could explain up to 46 per cent of the difference between eight counties — Turkana, Marsabit, Wajir, Mandera, Tana River, West Pokot, Garissa, Samburu and Isiolo — and the remaining 38 counties.
Stunting is a horrific early growth failure and has been described by the WHO as the most significant impediment to human development.

Stunting is caused by poor nutrition and maternal health, especially in the first 1,000 days, which is the first two years from conception. Sadly, the effects of stunting are irreversible. Children over the age of two years are unlikely to regain lost development potential and carry long-term deficits in cognitive capacity.
Food for Thought, a report by Save the Children published in 2013, showed that compared with normal children, stunted children score seven per cent lower in math tests; are 19 per cent less likely to read a simple sentence at age 8, and are 12 per cent less likely able to write a simple sentence; and, are 13 per cent less likely to be in the appropriate grade for their age at school.

Studies by the World Bank estimate that a one per cent loss in height due to stunting could lead to up to 1.4 per cent loss in economic productivity.

It is estimated that 40-67 per cent of the working population in Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and Swaziland was stunted as children. Today, this early growth failure costs these economies between 1.9-16.5 per cent of the GDP.
The African Development Bank estimates the cost of closing Africa’s infrastructure gap at $360 billion, with significant investments required by 2020. Do we know what it costs to halt the march of malnutrition and secure the first 1,000 days for all African children?

Together, let’s invest in mothers and unborn children to secure Africa’s future and build a stronger generation.