In the Ministry of Education (MoE) 2015 Education for All national review, Sub Saharan Africa was found to be one of the lowest achieving regions. Kenya is one of the countries that has sought to rectify this situation in order to support its underprivileged communities and achieve its socio-economic aspirations. To this end, the Government is working towards achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of Universal Primary Education. Although there are challenges, through the Free Primary Education initiative (originally introduced in 2003), the Government has achieved much regarding stabilisation of enrolment, retention and transition of pupils.
The question that education stakeholders are now asking is: are our children learning? There has been much debate about desired learning outcomes, with the two main indicators of quality education being literacy and numeracy. Students who can read fluently, with comprehension at their grade level, and who have numeracy with automaticity, are considered to be receiving better quality education.
However, between 2005 and 2010, several studies were carried out by education quality monitoring groups which painted a bleak picture of student competencies in literacy and numeracy: the Uwezo 2010 Annual Learning Assessment (Kenya) concluded that “The state of literacy and numeracy skills of children in Kenya is grim!”. It found that:
1. Two out of three Class 2 children in Kenya cannot read this paragraph:
Ali and Hassan are friends.
They play each day.
Ali can run fast.
He is in the school team.
2. Twenty percent of 6-16 year old children who can do real-life mathematics (e.g. as used when buying various quantities of different fruit), are not able to do abstract mathematics of the same difficulty level, for instance sums such as:
32+24 = 60+15= 24+71= 46-24= 84-53=
The full study can be found here:
This prompted the Government, supported by development partners, to carry out a Primary Math and Reading Initiative (PRIMR) baseline study across four counties, to try to establish the root cause of the failures. They discovered that:
Teacher training curriculum in Kenya was lacking the component on reading
Early grade English and Kiswahili curriculum being offered was language based rather than reading
Teacher support systems in classroom teaching were dysfunctional
There was gross lack of supplementary books to support the efforts to teach reading
The student textbook ration did not allow for personalised teaching of reading
In more recent years, there has been a multi-pronged approach to rectifying this situation.
In 2015, the MoE in conjunction with US international development agency USAID launched Tusome (‘Let’s Read’ in Kiswahili), an ambitious early grade reading programme. Addressing the issues highlighted by the PRIMR study, teachers and other education stakeholders report a dramatic improvement in reading outcomes in Kenyan primary schools since its deployment.
As part of the Government’s plan to integrate ICT into education, the Digital Literacy Programme was launched in 2013. Kenyan primary schools were connected to the national electricity grid and each school provided with digital learning devices (tablets) and content.
Then again in 2015, the iMlango programme was rolled out by a consortium of like-minded partners to support the Government’s efforts to promote literacy and numeracy by providing:
Digital content on the ‘learning platform’, approved by the Kenya Institute for Curriculum Development (KICD)
Digital story books
Exam revision materials
Teacher in service training and classroom support
Real time learning outcomes assessment using Early Grade Readers Assessment (EGRA)
and additionally supporting:
Enhanced role of Boards of Management (BoM) and Parents Associations (PA)
Greater parental involvement
One of iMlango’s literacy-boosting activities is its spin-off of the acclaimed Kenyan television show The Great Debaters Contest, the iMlango Junior Debaters Contest. Run in partnership with the show’s producers, Arimus Media, the contest aims to help improve literacy, communication and research skills, general knowledge, as well as teamwork and pupil self-esteem.
In parallel to promoting literacy and numeracy, iMlango has pioneered a ground-breaking innovation in digital school attendance monitoring, and is directly addressing the challenge of gender mainstreaming in education. iMlango is also reaching out to support economically marginalised parents with its microloans initiative, with a view not only to supporting businesses, but ultimately to enhancing the loan recipients’ children’s educational outcomes.
iMlango’s implementation has led to marked improvements in eLearning for both teachers and pupils. Teachers’ pedagogical knowledge, skills and attitudes in using ICT in school are enhanced, as evidenced by the number of teachers logging into the ICT content portal, using the whole class teaching approach and supporting learners in the computer lab. Their ongoing professional development, as well as continued classroom support by field officers and constant engagement during lunchtimes have all been key contributors.
iMlango schools are also showing significant improvements in their KCPE (Kenya Certificate for Primary Education) mean scores, showing a strong correlation between pupils’ increased time accessing the learning platform and their learning outcomes. For example:
Mwadodo Primary School, Kilifi County
Population: 717 pupils, of whom 354 girls and 363 boys
Overall mean KCPE scores:
2017 244.69 (increment of 23.79 points on previous year)
2018 261.45 (increment of 16.76 points on previous year)
It is clear to see that the ethos of iMlango is in line with Government literacy and numeracy improvement policies, and that results since its inception three years ago show that it is a valuable tool for achieving excellent 21st century educational outcomes for girls and boys in Kenya’s more challenged regions.
By: Rabasa Onyango, iMlango Education Advisor