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Shockingly low proficiency rates in reading signals a global learning crisis

Education enables upward socioeconomic mobility and is the key to escaping poverty. Nevertheless, millions of children are still out of school, and not all who do attend are learning. More than half of children and adolescents worldwide are not meeting minimum proficiency standards in reading and mathematics.

Disparities in educational opportunities and outcomes are found across regions, and sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Central and Southern Asia lag behind. As a result, many students are not fully prepared to participate in a highly complex global economy. That gap should provide the incentive for policymakers to refocus their efforts to ensure that the quality of education is improved, and that more people of all ages can access it. This is according to United Nations Report of Sustainable Development Goals 2019.

According to the report, globally, an estimated 617 million children and adolescents of primary and lower secondary school age-more than 55 per cent of the global total- lacked minimum proficiency in reading and mathematics in 2015. One third of those children and adolescents were out of school and urgently needed access to education.

About two thirds of them attended school but did not become proficient, either because they dropped out or because they did not learn basic skills. Despite years of steady growth in enrolment rates, non-proficiency rates remain disturbingly high. They are the highest in sub-Saharan Africa, where 88 per cent of children, roughly about 202 million of primary and lower secondary school are were not proficient in reading, and 84 per cent, about 193 million were not proficient in mathematics in 2015.

Central and Southern Asia was not faring significantly better. There, 81 per cent of children, 241 million, were not proficient in reading, and 76 per cent, 228 million lacked basic mathematical skills. Girls are more likely than boys to learn how to read. Globally, for every 100 boys who achieved minimum proficiency in reading in 2015, 105 girls or primary school age and 109 adolescents’ women of lower secondary school age met at least the minimum standard.

The learning crisis not only threatens an individual’s ability to climb out of poverty, it also jeopardizes the economic future of entire nations as they struggle to compete in a global marketplace with less-than-skilled human resources. The next decade provides an important window of opportunity for policymakers to ensure that all children are proficient in basic literacy and numeracy.

The report indicated that early childhood education offers a head start in school, but one third of the world’s children are being left behind. It noted that evidence shows that good quality early childhood education is one of the best investments a society can make in its children- one that builds a strong foundation of learning in later years. In fact, early childhood education has been found to be one of the strongest determinants of a child’s readiness for school, in both high-income and low-income countries.

Participation in organized learning one year before the official entry age for primary school has risen steadily over the past years. At the global level, the participation rate in early childhood education was 69 per cent in 2017, up from 63 per cent in 2010. However, considerable disparities were found among countries, with rates ranging from 7 per cent to nearly 100 per cent. The early childhood education participation rate was only 43 per cent in least developed countries.

Moreover, the report indicated that progress has stalled in reaching out-of school children. It underlined that despite considerable progress in educational access and participation, 262 million children and adolescents aged between 6 and 17 years were still out of school in 2017. That represented nearly one fifth of the global population in that age group. Of that number, 64 million were children of primary school age, about 6 to 11 years old, 61 million were adolescents of lower secondary school age, 12 to 14 years old, and 138 million were youth of upper secondary school age, 15 to 17 years old.

It noted that girls still face barriers to education in most regions, particularly in Central Asia, Northern Africa and Western Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. In those regions, girls of every age are more likely to be excluded from education than boys. For every 100 boys of primary-school age out of school in 2017, 127 girls were denied the right to education in Central Asia, 121 in sub-Saharan Africa, and 112 in Northern Africa and Western Asia. At the global level, 118 girls were out of school for every 100 boys. Recent successes in reducing the number of children out of school and reducing the gender gap in the out-of-school rate need to be replicated worldwide to ensure all children, everywhere, are attending school.

Too many schools in sub-Saharan Africa lack the basic elements of a good quality education: trained teachers and adequate facilities, the report indicated. It underlined that adequate infrastructure and teacher training play a critical role in the quality of education. Of all regions, sub-Saharan Africa faces the biggest challenges in providing schools with basic resources.

The situation is extreme at the primary and lower secondary levels, where less than one half of schools in the region have access to drinking water, electricity computers and the internet. At the upper secondary level, 57 per cent of schools have electricity, but only 25 to 50 per cent have access to drinking water, hand washing facilities, computers and the internet.

Another important step towards the goal of good quality education for all is getting enough trained teachers into classrooms. Here again, sub-Saharan Africa lags behind. In 2017, that region had the lowest percentages of trained teachers in pre-primary, at 48 per cent, primary 64 per cent and secondary 50 per cent education.

Despite progress, 750 million adults still cannot read and write a simple statement, two thirds f those adults are women, the report indicated. It alleged that recent decades have seen improvements in basic reading and writing skills and a steady reduction in gender gaps, with women’s literacy rates growing faster than men’s literacy rates in all regions over the past 25 years.

However, 750 million adults- two thirds of whom are women- remained illiterate in 2016. Adult literacy rates are lowest in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia. Southern Asia alone is home to nearly half of the global population who are illiterate. On a more positive note, the report stressed that youth literacy rats are generally higher than those of adults.

This reflects increased access to schooling among younger generations, although many students with basic reading and writing skills still struggle to meet the higher standard of minimum proficiency in reading and mathematics. The global literacy rate of adults was 86 per cent in 2016, compared t0 91 per cent for youth in the same year. However, youth literacy remains low in several countries, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

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Free at last: Ian Kirby Speaks Out

6th December 2021
Justice Ian Kirby

The outgoing President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ian Kirby, shares his thoughts with us as he leaves the Bench at the end of this year.

WeekendPost: Why did you move between the Attorney General and the Bench?

Ian Kirby: I was a member of the Attorney General’s Chambers three times- first in 1969 as Assistant State Counsel, then in 1990 as Deputy Attorney General (Civil), and finally in 2004 as Attorney General. I was invited in 2000 by the late Chief Justice Julian Nganunu to join the Bench. I was persuaded by former President Festus Mogae to be his Attorney General in 2004 as, he said, it was my duty to do so to serve the nation. I returned to the Judiciary as soon as I could – in May 2006, when there was a vacancy on the High Court Bench.

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Civil society could rescue Botswana’s flawed democracy’ 

6th December 2021
Parliament

Botswana’s civil society is one of the non-state actors that could save the country’s democracy from sliding into regression, a Germany based think tank has revealed.  This is according to a discussion paper by researchers at the German Development Institute who analysed the effects of e-government usage on political attitudes In Botswana.

In the paper titled “E-government and democracy in Botswana: Observational and experimental evidence on the effects of e-government usage on political attitudes,” the researchers offer a strongly worded commentary on Botswana’s ‘flawed democracy.’  The authors noted that with Botswana’s Parliament structurally – and in practice – feeble, the potential for checks and balances on executive power rests with the judiciary.

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Bangwato at loggerheads over Moshupa trip

6th December 2021

Bangwato in Serowe — where Bamagwato Paramount Chief and former President Lt. Gen Ian Khama originates – disagree on whether they must send a delegation to dialogue with President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s family in Moshupa. Just last week, a meeting was called by the Regent of Bamagwato, Kgosi Sediegeng Kgamane, at Serowe Kgotla to, among others, update the tribe on the whereabouts of their Kgosi (Khama). 

Further, his state of health was also discussed, with Kgamane telling the attendees that all is well with Khama. The main reason for the meeting was to deliberate on the escalating tension between Khama and Masisi — a three-year bloodletting going unabated.

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