Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Are our Children Learning? What about Parents?

Today, ironically a day after Tanzania "received an award for better achievements in implementing the Millenium Development Goal on Education" (The Citizen: 21 September 2010), I attended the launch of 'Are Our Children Learning? Annual Learning Assessment Report - Tanzania 2010'. The report will shortly be made available at Uwezo.net .

Expectedly, its statistics - as all 'factual' educational statistcs in the country are - were glaringly saddening. For instance, it was found out that whereas "all children in Standard 3 should be able to read at the Standard 2 story level, less than 1 in 3 (32.7%) can" (p. 1). The situation remains pathetic at Standard 7: "By the time they complete primary school, however, 1 out of every 5 children cannot read the Standard 2 level Story" (p.1). Mind you a total of 42, 033 children in 22, 800 households were assessed accross 30 randomly selected villages per district in 38 districts.

The situation is also drastic when it comes to English. The study found out that "less than 1 in 10 (7.7%)" children in Standard 3 "can read a Standard 2 story level" (p. 1). More worse by "the time they complete primary school, half of all the children (49.1%) cannot read a Standard 2 level English story" (p. 1) We are talking here of a very basic english paragraph - in fact a collection of simple sentences as one of the participants at the launch, Dr. Martha Qorro, highlighted!

Lest one argues, as one participant somehow argued, that the difference between Kiswahili and English comprehension in the findings of the study is very small and so, by inference, the call for teaching in Kiswahili as a Medium of Instruction is unfounded, it is important to stress Dr. Qorro's sharp observation. The paragraph and story they were required to read in Kiswahili, though at a Standard 2 level, was relatively much complex/harder - at the same level - as those they were required to read in English. Upon probing we were told that teaching experts thought if a much complex, albeit Standard 2 level, story and paragraph were given to the children it would be impossible for them to read let alone comprehend and, presumably, the researchers thought this would be impractical for the purposes of comparative assessment of levels.

What does all this mean as far as the Language of Instruction (LOI) in Tanzania is concerned? It simply means that if they had been asked to read a relatively equally complex paragraph and story in English they would have 'failed' miserably compared to the way they performed in Kiswahili. Thus it is still important to factor in LOI if we truly want to make our children learn and thus improve the glaring pathetic level of the state of quality of education in Tanzania.

Nevertheless, taken independently, these scores in Kiswahili and English comprehension reminds us that our education system as far as learning outcomes are concerned is so messed up. Another finding paint the same dim picture: "Only 7 in 10 primary school leavers can do Standard 2 level Mathematics" (p. 3). It is in this regard the following observation and conclusion from the report are so timely:

At present, in Tanzania and elsewhere, much of the focus is on provision of educational inputs, such as classrooms, laboratories, books and teachers, rather than learning outcomes, such as literacy, numeracy, writing, critical thinking and creativity. Since the evidence shows that the inputs are not being translated into learning outcomes, there is a need to realign focus-wide on achieving learning outcomes within ministries responsible for education, training institutions, curriculum development, institutions, curriculum development, examinations, teachers and schools assessment, measures of progress, and political commitments (p. 45)

My question though is: Have the inputs failed us or have we failed them? If teachers are indeed 'inputs' have we surely prepared and deployed teachers who can really teach? Or are we still 'inputing' teachers who are reflected by the 'outcome' of the picture above? In fact, as one of the participant said, it would be very interesting to assess teachers by using these same tests that were used on the children. We may find similar results like those that happened when certain teachers were asked somewhere to do the national examinations that they were meant to mark!

Nonetheless I totally agree with the report that "instead of doing more of what has been done harder or faster it may be time to do something different" (p.46). As for me something different would be to capitalize on one of the findings of the studies, that children with educated mothers tend to perform better - and more dramatically when that parent has attended secondary school. In fact the report found out that "in Standard 3 and 4 these children are five times more likely to be able to read a story in English and more than twice as likely to be able to multiply and read a story in Kiswahili." (p.5). These findings shows why the following point about the role of higher education that was stressed recently by Professor Mahmood Mamdani is so pertinent:

The whole process [of declining university standards] was set into motion in the early 1990s when the Government succumbed to the pressure of the World Bank to cut funds to the university so as to increase funding for primary education. What the Government and the World Bank forgot was that you cannot expand the primary education sector without expanding university education because you need university products in building a strong UPE [Universal Primary Education]. The policy itself was wrong...You cannot have a successful UPE without a strong university system. Their policy was wrong because they assumed that you could let a university system collapse and it would not affect the primary system or secondary system or even the economy and other sectors. A university is like a power generating plant, generating intellectual power which feeds all sectors of the country including industries, businesses, education, health and indeed all other sectors. (Source: Sunday Vision: 21 August 2010)

Indeed we need to educate parents as their education trickle down to their children. The current national rate of adult illiteracy is too shameful - a far cry from the rate we had in the heydays of Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere's rallies for Adult Education. As Salma Moulidi alerted us elsewhere, it has rose from about 10% to above 30% within a generation! If parents are such an important educational 'input' to the extent that even "children whose mothers have attended only primary school seem to have a small but significant advantage above children whose mothers have not been in school" (p. 5) as the Uwezo.net report shows, we ought to invest heavily and urgently on their - yes, our - education. It is in this regard that I commend the launched report of considering "possibly even parents" (p. 46) in the part of their recommendation that state:

Our analysis and studies worldwide suggest that a core part of the puzzle may be to realign incentives - so that key actors system-wide are recognized for promoting learning" (p. 46).

Let our parents learn. That way our children will and shall learn. After all teachers are parents.


Chambi Chachage September 22, 2010 at 7:44 AM  

The official summary of the report isnoew available at: http://www.twaweza.org/index.php?i=386

peter September 22, 2010 at 4:52 PM  

and this link takes you to the full report (a big-ish .pdf)

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