Ugandan Children are in school, but they are not learning

By Judith Nyakaisiki

Evidence shows that children are in school but not learning. This is demonstrated annually through assessments conducted by Uwezo Uganda.

According to Uwezo Uganda findings from a learning assessment carried out in 2021, the overall proportion of children in primary grades three to seven who could not read or sound out letters of the alphabet almost doubled from 6.2% in 2018 to 11.6% in 2021. Put another way: 1 in every 10 children in Uganda are non-readers. 

While the assessment findings show some improvement in 2018 where full literacy and numeracy competence for the whole set of students in grades P3 to P7 rose, the proportion of children in P3 who are still at the ‘non-reader’, ‘letter/syllable’ and ‘non-numerate’ stages remain very large. As indicated in the previous assessments, it is evident that most children are learning the basics of reading in the upper primary grades, whereas they should have mastered them in the lower primary grades so as to benefit fully from other elements in the curriculum.

Previous Uwezo assessments have revealed that a significant proportion of children delay acquiring the foundational skills even after being in school for years. The result is a large proportion of learners who are likely to leave primary schools without acquiring the basic competencies or being able to read or count. In some cases, some of them may never learn these basic skills at all – a phenomenon we refer to as “learning poverty”. This exacerbates school dropout rates as overage children lose the motivation to continue with schooling situations that deny them chance to value education.

As educators and educational policy specialists, we all agree that the recovery of the educational system from the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused the longest school closure in the world of eighteen months is a huge undertaking for Uganda. Even when schools are reopened, children will continue to experience challenges caused by the pandemic. To alleviate the situation at hand and to support these children, the Uwezo Reports provide useful recommendations that focus on ensuring children acquire the foundational skills of literacy and numeracy in the lower primary grades.

There is room for other education sector actors to co-create other solutions that will improve Ugandan children’s literacy and numeracy skills. For example, donors can help increase the number of teachers at government-aided primary schools and organisations with the capacity to train educators can support volunteer teaching assistants from local Ugandan communities to facilitate continued learning at home. These interventions and others that we can imagine together will help Ugandan children to acquire foundational learning skills that will pave way for further learning and support them in realising their full potential.

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