INEQUALITIES

Quit blaming Covid-19 break for kids’ bad grades

In Summary
  • The sensation, alarm and denunciation are misplaced and a tad hypocritical
  • The broad patterns of the outcomes by subject, urban or rural, private school or public school, gender and by counties is hardly surprising.
Pupils of Sukuk Pimary School learn under a tree last year
Pupils of Sukuk Pimary School learn under a tree last year
Image: MARYANN CHAI

The Kenya Global Partners in Education Covid-19 Learning Continuity in Basic Education report on Std 8 learning assessment has stirred more sensation, alarm and denunciation than sensible debate and reflection.

The sensation was orchestrated by newspaper headlines that screamed alarm and shock that most Std 8 pupils scored below 50 per cent in school-based tests administered last year. The alarm, understandably, is because the final, national standardised tests are due in just about 40 days. The denunciation by Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha was prompt, suggesting the report was demoralising.

The report suggests that students, who lost nearly 10 months of learning, are not adequately prepared to take the national exams and perhaps need more time to prepare. The outraged denunciation by Prof Magoha was in large part stirred by the assertion that low scores in the school-based exams administered more than 12 weeks ago suggested that there would be mass failure.

The sensation, alarm and denunciation are misplaced and a tad hypocritical. The broad patterns of the outcomes by subject, urban or rural, private school or public school, gender and by counties is hardly surprising. That only 34.5 per cent of Std 8 pupils scored above 50 per cent in mathematics is not new. That urban schools outperform rural schools is not new. That learners in private schools score higher grades than their counterparts in public schools is not news. Moreover, gender disparity in performance at all levels of schooling is not new.

Public schools are crippled by low student-teacher ratios, chronic teacher absenteeism, lack of adequate reading materials, poor infrastructure, especially classrooms and toilets, and most of all inadequate teacher knowledge and ability.

The patterns of disparities in learning outcomes are not because of loss of learning or gaps owing to school closure or interruption owing to Covid-19. The disparities are the result of inequity in investment in public education. Public schools are crippled by low student-teacher ratios, chronic teacher absenteeism, lack of adequate reading materials, poor infrastructure, especially classrooms and toilets, and most of all inadequate teacher knowledge and ability.

A recent World Bank report revealed that classroom absence rate in public primary is as high as 47 per cent, nearly four children shared one textbook and minimum knowledge among teachers was a dismal 35 per cent. Minimum knowledge is a measure of a teacher’s knowledge of mathematics and language tests covering based on the primary school curriculum.

Uwezo, an education advocacy group, has consistently revealed in its authoritative reports ‘Are Our Children Learning?’ that learning outcomes have not improved since 2009. Consistently, only three out of 10 children in Std 3 can do Std 2 work and one out 10 children complete Std 8 without acquiring the basic competencies expected of a child completing Std 2.

Quit the scapegoating and righteous indignation. The Covid-19 Learning Continuity in Basic Education report on Std 8 learning assessment has nothing to do with loss of leaning during the 10 months of school closure due to Covid-19. The report has everything to do with historical policy and leadership failure in the education sector.

We must deal with the long ignored and vexing issues that bedevil learning outcomes; teacher quality, school resources (classrooms, toilets and textbooks).