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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Curriculum review and laptops alone will not improve student learning

Uwezo launched its sixth learning assessment report last week. The report is hardly flattering. It is a chilling indictment of our education. Learning outcomes are dismal.  Shameful regional inequalities in education achievement persist half a century after we earned the right govern ourselves.  

The Uwezo assessment measured the ability of over 130,000 children to read and complete basic numeracy tasks at the level of standard 2. Are our children learning? Only 3 out 10 children in standard 3 can read and add at the level required in standard 2. About 1 in 10 children in completing standard 8 have not acquired literacy and numeracy skills expected of a child in standard 2.

Learning achievement in rural and urban schools reveals shameful, unconscionable disparities. Only 25 per cent of children in standard 3 in rural schools can read at the level expected of a child in standard 2. Conversely over 40 per cent of children in standard 3 in urban schools can read at the level of a child in standard 2. Here is what is more disconcerting. Children from non-poor households were two times more likely to read and add at the level expected of a child in class 2.

It is obvious that our children are not learning. And this is especially worrying in a knowledge-based economy, which is both global and intensely competitive. Is there something irredeemably wrong with the current curriculum? Or is it the teachers? Or is the child? Or is it the household – the parents and the home environment? What have lessons have we learned?

What do we need to do to improve learning achievement and prepare our children for an unknown future? I know we are investing billions of shillings to introduce laptops/tablets into our classrooms. I also we are changing the education system and the curriculum will no longer be 8-4-4. These are drastic policy decisions. And they are costly.

This is not the first time we are fiddling with the both the education system and the curriculum. Will these big-ticket policy decisions improve learning achievement for our children? Where is the evidence? I would love to see the systematic evaluation of the 8-4-4 system and the current curriculum.

I would like to know if this time we are sure that the reason our children are not learning is because the current curriculum is defective. I would also like to see any studies conducted in our schools, which prove that electronic devises will enhance, reading, writing, numeracy and playful creativity among our children.

Are we changing the curriculum and the education system just because it’s a good thing to do? Are electronic devises the new fad?


Are we truly committed to preparing our children for a brutally competitive knowledge-based economy? If we are committed we must invest in teacher training, pay teachers well and hold them accountable. Moreover we must invest in rural economies, reduce poverty and prevent stunting, which robs millions of children of their learning and productivity potential.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

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

Later this week, Uwezo, will launch the annual learning assessment report. Previous reports have shown that learning levels are low and remained static; less than one third of children in standard 3 posses basic numeracy and literacy skills. Why are our children not learning?

What is most disconcerting however is that learning outcomes 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 like Wajir, Turkana, Garissa, Mandera and Tana River. Moreover, 90 percent of the mothers in counties in poor arid and semi-arid counties could not read the level a standard 2 pupil compared to less than 30 percent of mothers in counties Central Kenya. 

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

High prevalence of stunting converges with mothers’ literacy levels and low level 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 percent of the difference between eight counties (Turkana, Marsabit, Wajir, Mandera, Tana River, West Pokot, Garissa, Samburu and Isiolo), and remaining 38 counties.

Stunting is a horrific early growth failure and has been described by 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 7 percent lower on math tests; are 19 percent less likely to be able to read a simple sentence at age 8, and 12 percent less likely able to write a simple sentence; and, are 13 percent less likely to be able to be in the appropriate grade for their age at school.

Studies by the World Bank estimate that a one percent loss in height due to stunting could lead to up to 1.4 percent loss in economic productivity. It is estimated that 40-67 per cent of the working population Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and Swaziland was stunted as children. Today, this early growth failure costs these economies between 1.9 and 16.5 percent of GDP.

The African Development Bank estimates the cost of closing Africa’s infrastructure gap at USD 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, lets invest in mothers and unborn children to secure Africa’s future and build a stronger generation.

CS Matiangi has restored credibility in national examinations

In John 2: 13-16, the Bible records Jesus’ visit to the temple in Jerusalem. He found livestock and poultry traders, and moneychangers doing business. Jesus made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the temple. He ejected t moneychangers and overturned tables. “Do not make my Father’s house a house of merchandise”, Jesus said to them.

Kenya’s education, especially the examination process, has been a shameful temple of merchandise for nearly three decades. Top ten slots were for sale to the highest bidder. A thick and well-oiled cartel traded in examination papers, influenced grading and scoring of scripts and had the last word on school rankings. Parents could negotiate grades directly with officials at the Kenya National Examination Council (KNEC).

Elite private primary school, also known as academies, thrived. They charged high fees and invested hugely in cheating, paying for ranking and using multiple registration centres to guarantee high mean scores. Similarly, elite public secondary schools, also known as national schools, used their high enrollment numbers and financial advantage to purchase examination materials and influence test scores and ranking.

High school principles are minor deities; officials at Jogoo House and KNEC worship have them on speed dial and worship the ground they walk on. Education in this country almost ceased to be about teaching and learning and preparing the next generation of citizens. Education had become a house of exchange of just three things; money, grades and rankings. Students became pawns in the game. Grades and ranking become something like dope, to which schools, parents and students got hooked to.

Successive education ministers and top officials at Jogoo House were inducted into the immoral orgy and baptized in oodles of bribe cash. These individuals were eaten up by zeal for loot. But not the current Education Cabinet Secretary Dr. Fred Matiangi. CS Matiangi is consumed by zeal for our children and the credibility of our education system.

Under CS Matiangi’s indomitable, and I dare say abrasive and egotistical, resolve confidence is beginning to return to Kenya’s education system and especially, KNEC. Stringent management and administration of KCPE has paid off hugely. CS Matiangi is the man of the moment. He is Kenya’s knight in shining armor.

At a time when our country is staggered by the gales of grand corruption, what CS Matiangi has achieved in the department of education must give us hope. CS Matiangi gives us hope that we can vanquish the evil forces of corruption at work in our society. He gives us hope that Kenya’s education sector will not be a house of merchandise.


CS Matiangi could have chosen the gravy path like his predecessors; taken the loot and looked the other way as our education system goes to the dogs. CS Matiangi gives us hope that there are Kenyans who are willing to risk everything, resist the charm of sleaze and put Kenya first. Can his cabinet colleagues emulate his example?

Is evil on a victory lap in Kenya?

Is corruption and other forms of moral depravity the new normal in our society? Has common decency been bludgeoned out of existence? Are we afraid to stand up for what is right?

Corruption and all kinds of moral depravity could be the new normal because; half of Kenyan youth believe it doesn’t matter how one makes money; 47 percent admire those who make money through hook or crook; 35 percent would take or give a bribe and; 30 percent believe corruption is profitable. Moreover, 73 percent are afraid to stand up for what is right. See no evil and hear no evil.

Last week I was privileged to join outstanding young Kenyans at the Wangari Mathai Foundation’s Youth Cafe. These men, drawn from across this great land were passionate, visionary, ambitious, altruistic and unbowed. We talked about who they are, their personal stories, their ups and downs. We talked about their source – what made them who they are or what they are continually evolving into. We talked about values – the essence and the banks of their beliefs and principles. They shared their thoughts and experiences as children growing up, as college students, as citizens and as young parents.

We also talked about this unprecedented demographic moment in our history. Unprecedented because Kenyans aged below 35 constitute about 80 percent of our population. It is unprecedented because the median age in Kenya less than 20 years. It is unprecedented because the future of this country is not being manufactured by some extraterrestrial beings or providence. The construction of the future is happening before our own eyes, through policy, investment, moral and ethical choices we make today.

These young men were clear about some fundamental things in ways that horrify and inspire. In their view, the pursuit of material success – high grades, power and money – has supped all the juice for goodness and moral integrity among young people. They also believe that what many young men like them have become is what society has poured into them. They believe there is a debilitating dearth of positive role models in our society.


During the conversation about leadership – at all levels in the society – they delivered a most powerful indictment; “fish rots from the head”. The imagery is powerful and insightfully sobering.  They believe that this country has too many leaders – academic, business, religious, civil society, political – but woefully lacks leadership.

In their view failed leadership is at the heart of Kenya’s predicament – runaway corruption in both public and private sector egged by a greedy citizens, lazy and disengaged citizens unwilling to hold all of us to account, faith leaders who have chosen to pass the other way, unwilling to attend to a wounded and bleeding society.


My frustration is with the overabundance of cleaver diagnosis – data and anecdotes – of our predicament but limited capacity to mobilize for action and change. We must escape from the purgatory of analysis paralysis. Let’s do something, you and I.

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