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Education sector ‘doing well’ despite Covid toll

Thursday, June 9th, 2022 02:38 | By
A teacher takes her Grade 1 pupils through lesson at Spaki Primary School in Mombasa. The WB report says that learning has improved. PHOTO/Bonface Msangie

The Kenyan education sector has improved significantly despite disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, a World Bank report has shown.

Covid-19 resulted in learning losses and deepened inequalities in the education sector. According to the report, about 17 million students and over 320,000 teachers were affected by the closure of 30,000 primary and secondary schools in 2020 in Kenya.

“Partial reopening of schools began in October 2020, for students in grades 4, 8 and 12. In January 2021, all basic and tertiary education institutions fully reopened. Efforts to provide remote learning revealed a significant digital divide, with over 50 per cent of students not being able to engage these opportunities mainly due to lack of devices, electricity and internet connectivity,” the report released yesterday states.

It adds that the government had embarked on ambitious reforms before the pandemic, which sought to improve the quality of education through several approaches, but these were disrupted.

They include the competency-based curriculum (CBC), reforming professional teacher development, textbook policy, and management practices at the local level. These have made Kenya a top education performer in Eastern and Southern Africa.

Challenge ahead

The World Bank says the government faces the challenge of ensuring that the pandemic does not leave lasting scars on the education sector. Also to be tackled are the remaining medium-term challenges.

Key structural challenges include increasing the enrollment in post-primary education, improving learning outcomes and reducing deep inequalities.

“As Kenya already spends a comparatively high share of resources on education, meeting these challenges will require resource allocations to remain adequate,” reads the report. In particular, the World Bank says that continuing and accelerating the improvements in the sector will depend on providing adequate resources.

It has also said that there will be a need for equitable allocation of resources where they are most needed, improving the management at local levels and providing extra support for all regions.

“Kenya can build on the strong foundations of its education system by continuing to improve access to, and the quality of, education, equipping it to be a driver of growth towards becoming an upper middle-income country, and reducing inequalities,” it states. The report states that enrollment in primary school is almost universal but falls sharply when transitioning to secondary education. At least 14 per cent of students who complete Standard 8 do not enroll in Form 1 and about 40 percent of students who begin Grade 1 do not complete Form 4. Sharp drops were also observed in promotion rates between grades 7 and 8.

Form 3 and 4 coincide with the national examinations, which determine progress from primary to secondary and from secondary to upper education levels.

The report also says that learning has improved but the share of students achieving minimum performance levels is still low, decreasing sharply after Grade 3.

It adds that the National Assessment System for Monitoring Learner Achievement (NASMLA) evaluates students in Grades 3 and 7 of primary education while the Monitoring Learner Achievement (MLA) assesses students in Form 2.

 In Grade 3, about 68 per cent, 53 per cent and 59 per cent of students attained the 50 per cent benchmark in each of the tests for Kiswahili, English and Mathematics, respectively. As students progress through the system, the share of those who attain at least the 50 percent benchmark in the subjects tested decreases significantly. For instance, only 29 and 6 per cent achieve minimum competency levels in mathematics in Grade 7 and Form 2, respectively.

“There are very large regional inequalities in all education outcomes, with very low outcomes concentrated in a few counties in the north and northeast of the country, in arid and semi-arid areas,” it states.

Similarly, the report shows that the Expected Years of Schooling (EYS) range from almost 14 years in Nyeri to 6.5 in Garissa, with most counties exceeding 12 EYS, meaning that an average student in those counties is expected to complete secondary education.

Regional inequalities

The report has also pointed to worrying learning outcomes in reading, showing that nationwide, less than 50 per cent of students achieve the minimum high order proficiency level in reading. In 21 out of the 47 counties, the share is less than a third.

“Reading and comprehension are foundational skills required to absorb any curriculum, and thus very low reading outcomes are a severe limitation for students in progressing adequately through the system. This shortcoming in reading needs to be addressed urgently,” states the report.

The World Bank report states that students’ performance differs across schools within counties. More than half of the difference in learning performance is attributable to students within the same schools, which has important policy implications.

Targeting of specific counties or schools for support is simple but addressing the inequalities requires different pedagogical levels of learning,” the report says.

While gender differences have been reduced in recent years in primary education, girls still drop out of schools earlier than boys.

Gender disparities in school participation are concentrated in the most educationally disadvantaged counties, mainly in the North-Eastern and Coastal regions.

Barriers to girls’ school participation and retention include poverty and high school fees, poor infrastructure and long distances to schools, insecure learning environments and increased exposure to violence and sexual harassment or abuse.

“Early pregnancy contributes to girls’ higher dropout rates in secondary. Reasons include poverty and educational attainment (33 per cent of girls 15 to 19 years old with no education have begun childbearing), while teenagers from the poorest households (26 per cent) are more likely to have begun childbearing than those from the wealthiest (10 per cent),” says the report.

Differences in learning outcomes by gender paint a mixed picture, with girls performing better than boys in language and worse in Mathematics and Science at all levels of education.

 In third grade, the report says that girls outperform boys in all subjects.

In higher grades, however, boys outperform girls in Mathematics and Science, while girls continue to perform better in English and Kiswahili.

The gender gap in Mathematics and Science grows as students progress through the system, indicating that early actions to correct these gaps are fundamental to address future gender inequities. Returns to education for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs are also higher, so these differences can lead to life-long wage gaps.

According to the report, the minimum requirement satisfaction increased by 6 per cent in numeracy,16 per cent in English, and 6 per cent in Kiswahili.

Regionally, the report states that Kenya is outstanding in reading.

Although numeracy dropped in 2018 against neighboring countries, early grade mathematics assessments between 2015 and 2021 improved from 71 per cent in 2016, to 80 per last year in secondary schools.

 Final secondary examinations (KCSE) performance improved from 11 per cent in 2017 to 18 per cent last year .

According to the report, these improvements resulted from sustained high spending on education. Expenditure has reached international benchmarks, both as a share of total government expenditure (TGE) and as a share of gross domestic product (GDP). TGE as a share of GDP reached 5.3% in 2018, higher than the average for other lower middle-income and upper middle-income countries, except for South Africa. The share of the government budget on education also increased, reaching 19% in 2020. Education spending per capita is also relatively high compared to countries in the region, which the report highlights is a key factor in quality education.

The report has also highlighted key messages from the new World Bank Public Expenditure Review (PER) in basic education and highlights Kenya’s impressive achievements, challenges, and the way forward. 

According to the report, Kenya’s real gross domestic product (GDP) is projected to grow by 5.5 per cent this year and 5.2 per cent on average next year, a moderation following a remarkable recovery last year from the worst economic effects of the pandemic.

World Bank has stated that education will need additional resources from this economic growth even as the country continues to recover from the pandemic.

While Kenya does well for its level of income, says the report, it does not mean that it should not aim to further improve both access and, especially, quality of education in order to improve the Learning Adjusted Years of education (LAYS) and the World Bank’s Human Capital Index (HCI), which measures level of development of human capital in a country.

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