by Ben Taylor

Are children learning?
Only 1 in 5 children in the third year of Primary School in East Africa have acquired the literacy and numeracy skills expected of children in the second year. This was the main conclusion of the latest annual Uwezo survey of learning outcomes among primary school-age chil­dren in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.

The survey also found that only 24% of children completing seven years of primary schooling have mastered Standard 2 reading and numeracy skills.

Mbeya Urban district in Tanzania was the best performer, but Kenyan districts outperformed the region in overall assessment. Most Tanzanian districts ranked in the middle – below Kenya but above Uganda.

The survey found that poverty was a major factor in learning outcomes, with children from wealthier households performing substantially bet­ter than those from poorer households.

Data was collected on learning outcomes, school conditions and house­holds in 2013, including testing of over 325,000 children aged 6 years to 16 years in 150,000 households in 366 districts.

Shortage of space in Form 5 as O-level results improve
Around 16,000 students will miss out on places in Form 5 this year as record numbers achieved qualifying grades. Of just under 200,000 stu­dents who sat for O-levels, over 70,000 qualified for A-level admission. However, there are only 55,000 spaces available.

An editorial in the Daily News described the situation as “a colos­sal waste”. “It is high time the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training and other responsible stakeholders seriously addressed this problem of shortage of Form Five slots in public secondary schools. Frankly speaking, something must be done – and fast – to find a solu­tion to this very challenging situation.”

This is the second year for such a shortage to emerge, following a major change to how O-level candidates are graded. The new grading scheme, introduced from 2013, substantially lowered both the standard required to achieve a grade in each subject and the number of subject passes required in order to qualify for A-level entry.

Parents prefer English
A new survey by Twaweza, a non-governmental organisation, found that 89% of parents said their children found it difficult to switch from Swahili as the medium of instruction in Primary School to English in Secondary School. When asked what measures should be put in place to address this challenge, 63% stated that Primary Schools should adopt English as the language of instruction.

In contrast, the new Education Policy, launched earlier this year, signi­fied a shift to make Swahili the language used through Primary and Secondary schooling.

Death caused by caning reignites debate on corporal punishment
The death of a Secondary School pupil in Kiteto district, after he was punished for failing a Swahili test, prompted a fresh debate on corpo­ral punishment in Tanzanian schools. The boy, a Form 2 student, was reportedly given 12 strokes of the cane by his teachers, after failing a Swahili test. He died soon after.
“We have for years urged the government to abolish this form of pun­ishment in schools because it’s against children’s rights, but we have been ignored,” said Dr Hellen Kijo-Bisimba, Executive Director of the Legal and Human Rights Centre.
Coordinator of the Tanzania Education Network (TEN/MET), Cathleen Sekwao, said local NGOs, UN agencies and others have been campaign­ing against lashes to no avail. “Though we want the punishment elimi­nated, communities are letting us down because some parents think caning a child is the right thing to do.” (The Citizen)

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