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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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DPP halts JSC, Judge’s back to work plan

25th January 2021
Kebonang

The Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP)’s decision to reject and appeal the High Court’s verdict on a case involving High Court Judge, Dr Zein Kebonang has frustrated the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and Judge Kebonang’s back to work discussions.

JSC and Kebonang have been in constant discussions over the latter’s return to work following a ruling by a High Court panel of judges clearing him of any wrong doing in the National Petroleum Fund criminal case filed by the DPP. However the finalization of the matter has been hanged on whether the DPP will appeal the matter or not – the prosecution body has since appealed.

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BDP rejects Saleshando payment proposal

25th January 2021
MP saleshando

Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) top brass has declined a request by Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) to negotiate the legal fees occasioned by 2019 general elections petition in which the latter disputed in court the outcome of the elections.

This publication is made aware that UDC Vice President Dumelang Saleshando was left with an egg on his face after the BDP big wigs, comprising of party Chairman Slumber Tsogwane and Secretary General Mpho Balopi rejected his plea.

“He was told that this is a legal matter and therefore their (UDC) lawyer should engage ours (BDP) for negotiations because it is way far from our jurisdiction,” BDP Head of Communications, Kagelelo Kentse, told this publication.

This spelt doom for the main opposition party and Saleshando who seems not to have confidence and that the UDC lawyers have the dexterity to negotiate these kind of matters. It is not clear whether Saleshando requested UDC lawyer Boingotlo Toteng to sit at the table with Bogopa Manewe, Tobedza and Co, who are representing the BDP to strike a deal as per the BDP top echelons suggested.

“From my understanding, the matter is dealt with politically as the two parties are negotiating how to resolve it, but by far nothing has come to me on the matter. So I believe they are still substantively engaging each other,” Toteng said briefly in an interview on Thursday.

UDC petitioners saddled with costs after mounting an unprecedented legal suit before the court to try and overturn BDP’s October 2019 victory. The participants in the legal matter involves 15 parliamentary candidates’ and nine councillors. The UDC petitioned the court and contested the outcome of the elections citing “irregularities in some of the constituencies”.

In a brief ruling in January 2020, Judge President Ian Kirby on behalf of a five-member panel said: “We have no jurisdiction to entertain these appeals. These appeals must be struck out each with costs including costs of counsel”. This was a second blow to the UDC in about a month after their 2019 appeals were dismissed by the High Court a day before Christmas Day.

This week BDP attorneys decided to attach UDC petitioners’ property in a bid to settle the debts. UDC President Duma Boko is among those that will see their property being attached with 14 of his party members. “We have attached some and we are on course. So far, Dr. Mpho Pheko (who contested Gaborone Central) and that of Dr, Micus Chimbombi (who contested Kgalagadi South) will have their assets being sold on the 5th of February 2021,” BDP attorney Basimane Bogopa said.

Asked whether they met with UDC lawyers to try solve the matter, Bogopa said no and added. “Remember we are trying to raise the client’s funds, so after these two others will follow. Right now we are just prioritising those from Court of Appeal, as soon as the high court is done with taxation we will attach.”

Saleshando, when contacted about the outcomes of the meeting with the BDP, told WeekendPost that: “It would not be proper and procedural for me to tell you about the meeting outcomes before I share with UDC National Executive Committee (NEC), so I will have to brief them first.”

UDC NEC will meet on the 20th of next month to deal with a number of thorny issues including settling the legal fees. Negotiations with other opposition parties- Alliance for Progressives and Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) are also on the agenda.

Currently, UDC has raised P44 238 of the P565 000 needed to cover bills from the Court of Appeal (CoA). This is the amount in a UDC trust account which is paltry funds equating 7.8 per cent of the overall required money. In the past despite the petitioners maintaining that there was promise to assist them to settle legal fees, UDC Spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa then said the party has never agreed in no way to help them.

“We have just been put in debt by someone,” one of the petitioners told this publication in the past. “President’s (Duma Boko) message was clear at the beginning that money has been sourced somewhere to help with the whole process but now we are here there is nothing and we are just running around trying to make ends meet and pay,” added the petitioner in an interview
UDC NEC has in December last year directed all the 57 constituencies to each raise a minimum of P10, 000. The funds will be used to settle debts that are currently engulfing the petitioners with Sheriffs, who are already hovering around ready to attach their assets.

The petitioners, despite the party intervention, have every right to worry. “This is so because ‘the deadline for this initiative (P10, 000 per constituency) is the end of the first quarter of this year (2021),” a period in which the sheriffs would have long auctioned the properties.

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Boko-Khama axis viewed with suspicion

25th January 2021
boko-and-khama

President of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Duma Boko’s alliance with former President Lt Gen Ian Khama continues to unsettle some quarters within the opposition collective, who believe the duo, if not managed, will once again result in an unsuccessful bid for government in 2024.

While Khama has denied that he has undeclared preference to have Boko remaining as leader of UDC, many believe that the two have a common programme, while other opposition leaders remain on the side-lines.

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