African governments are meeting at the ADEA Triennale in Mauritius to discuss solutions as a new report shows that, while all children are born to learn, those in Africa are five times less likely to learn the basics than children elsewhere. The ability of education systems in the continent to ensure even rudimentary literacy skills for their students has declined in 4 out of 10 African countries over the last three decades.
The findings are published in the first of a three-part series of Spotlight reports on foundational learning in Africa called Born to learn, published by the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report at UNESCO, the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) and the African Union. The continental report draws from five accompanying country reports developed in partnership with ministries of education covering the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Mozambique, Rwanda and Senegal and a series of case studies from various African regions.
“Africa has a complex past that has left parts of it with linguistic fragmentation, conflict, poverty and malnutrition that have weighed heavily on the education systems’ ability to ensure universal primary completion and foundational learning. Our partnership is shining a spotlight on this issue together with education ministries to help find solutions that work. The social and economic consequences of low learning outcomes are devastating for Africa. This report’s findings give us the chance to find a new way forward, learning from each other,” said Albert Nsengiyumva, the Executive Secretary of ADEA.
The report finds that, in addition to socioeconomic challenges, the limited availability of good quality textbooks, lack of proper teacher support, inadequate teacher training and provision of teacher guides, limited progress in the introduction of home languages in teaching and insufficient school feeding programmes, are key factors that have resulted in poor learning outcomes in sub-Saharan Africa.
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Yet, recent interventions show that progress is possible if efforts are focused on classroom practices that are informed by evidence. These positive practices highlighted in the report and other experiences are to feed into a peer-learning mechanism on foundational learning hosted by the AU that has been launched alongside this report, the Leveraging Education Analysis for Results Network (LEARN), building on the Continental Education Strategy for Africa clusters.
Mohammed Belhocine, African Union Commissioner for Education, Science, Technology and Innovation said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has thwarted our efforts to ensure all children have fundamental skills in reading and mathematics. This is why a focus on basic education within our continental strategy’s policy dialogue platform is warranted. The work of the new LEARN network on basic education within the AU launched this week will draw from the experiences of countries that have taken part in the Spotlight report series”
As noted by Manos Antoninis, Director of the GEM Report, “Every child is born to learn, but they will not do so if they are hungry, if they don’t have a textbook to learn from, if they don’t understand the language they are being taught in and if their teachers are not supported appropriately. Every country needs to learn too, ideally from its peers. We hope this Spotlight report will guide ministries to make a clear plan to improve learning, setting a vision for change, working closely with teachers and school leaders, and making more effective use of external resources”.
The report makes the following recommendations:
- Give all children a textbook: Ensure all children have learning materials, which are research-based and locally developed. Each textbook is shared on average by 3 students and yet owning their textbook can increase children’s literacy scores by up to 20%. Senegal’s Lecture pour tous project ensured textbooks were high quality. Benin is celebrated for its system-wide curriculum and textbook reform that has provided more explicit and direct instruction for teachers, as well as making efforts to reduce the cost of textbooks to less than US$1.
- Teach all children in their home language: Give all children the opportunity to learn to read in the language they understand. Just one in five student are taught in their home language. Mozambique’s recent expansion of bilingual education covers around a quarter of primary schools, with children learning under the new approach achieving outcomes 15% higher than those studying the monolingual curriculum.
- Provide all children with a school meal: Give all children the minimum conditions to learn: zero hungry pupils in school. Today, only one in three primary school students in Africa receive a school meal. Rwanda has committed to deliver school meals to all children from pre-primary to lower secondary education and offered to cover 40% of the cost.
- Make a clear plan to improve learning: Define learning standards, set targets and monitor outcomes to inform the national vision. There is no information on the learning levels of two-thirds of children across the region. This represents 140 million students. The Ghana Accountability for Learning Outcomes Project is working on a framework for learning accountability, which includes development of national standardized assessment tests at grades 2 and 4.
- Develop teacher capacity: Ensure all teachers use classroom time effectively through training and teacher guides. A recent study covering 13 countries, 8 of them in sub-Saharan Africa, found that projects with teacher guides significantly increased reading fluency.
- Prepare instructional leaders: Restructure support mechanisms offered to teachers and schools. The Let’s read programme in Kenya, which combined school support and monitoring with effective leadership has seen improvements equivalent to one additional year of schooling for children.
- Learn from peers: Reinvigorate mechanisms for countries to share experiences on foundational literacy and numeracy.
- Focus aid on institution building: Shift from projects to provision of public goods that support foundational learning