Since 2010, the Uwezo learning assessment (an initiative of Twaweza East Africa) has reported on the learning levels of children aged 6-16 years in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Using Primary 2 tests in literacy (reading in English in all three countries, Kiswahili in Kenya and Tanzania, and selected local languages in Uganda) and numeracy, this assessment is conducted at the household. Citizen volunteers, in all or select sampled districts, conduct the assessment. In Uganda, Uwezo has assessed over 400,000 children since 2010, in over 170,000 households in over 13,000 villages. While the outcomes of the Uwezo assessment have widely been acknowledged, and the work continues to be relevant to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) era for monitoring learning outcomes at lower grades (SDG 4.1.1), the Uwezo assessment has been inadequate in telling the story of how children transit from the basics to the ideal of lifelong learning.
In 2016, Twaweza with the help of partners sought to expand this assessment by going deeper (assessing more than just reading and operations) and higher (testing skills and competencies beyond Primary 2). This we named the Uwezo Beyond Basics study. The study was conducted at school by citizen volunteers, provided instant feedback to engage teachers on what their learners could do, and involved discussions on the strategic choices that teachers could make to improve learning at their schools. This report presents the findings of this study, conducted in October 2016 in 195 schools in 10 districts in Uganda (Mukono, Mubende, Kaberamaido, Maracha, Butambala, Ntoroko, Ngora, Otuke, Dokolo and Kalangala). We underline that the sample of 10 districts is not representative of Uganda, and should only be inferred to understand learning outcomes in the sampled districts.
How was the assessment conducted?
The Uwezo Beyond Basics was conducted at school and targeted pupils in Primary 5 and 6 who were assessed in Primary 4 English and Mathematics. Unlike the traditional Uwezo assessment that focuses on reading and comprehension only, the Beyond Basics Assessment incorporated three further levels of literacy skills: writing, listening and spelling. In numeracy, the study combined different levels of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. The assessment also included critical thinking
- Learning levels among the Primary 5 and 6 pupils in English and Mathematics are low across the assessed districts. Learners did not show complete mastery in any of the assessed competencies
- As expected, Primary 6 pupils perform slightly better than Primary 5 pupils do. However, the performance of Primary 6 pupils still shows that many of them have not mastered Primary 4 English and mathematics competencies despite remaining with only a year to complete primary education.
- Repetition is common in schools. Seven out of ten pupils attending Primary 5 and 6 have repeated at least one class. Furthermore, more children repeated Primary 4 than any other class.
- Government-aided schools have higher pupil-teacher ratios, almost twice the ratio in private schools.
- Learner absenteeism is higher than teacher absenteeism. Almost 42% of the pupils are absent from school every day.
- Automatic Transition: Neither repetition nor automatic transition is a cure in themselves, but require attached accountability if wastage has to be managed. Repetition means that more resources are being used to keep children in school. Almost three-quarters of the children have repeated a class. Yet, despite these children repeating a class, their mastery is still low. This casts doubt then, on the extent to which repeating classes can help resolve the learning crisis. At the same time, promotion to the next class with no accountability to ensure every child learns may even make the problem worse.
- Learning domains: The debate on what children ought to learn rages on. Global skills such as critical thinking cannot be overemphasized. From these findings, it is clear that critical thinking remains a highly undeveloped skill among pupils with just a year left to complete primary education. As such, there is a need to interrogate the place of these critical learning skills in the school system.
- Language in Education Policy: Despite English being the language of instruction, children have difficulty writing and using it. It is imperative to interrogate the teaching methods used to prepare learners in English particularly in developing expressive language skills such as writing.
- Assessment policy – it is evident that pupils in upper primary still struggle to acquire basic skills. Therefore, screening and diagnostic assessments (early assessments) for remedial action are necessary. There is value in pivoting towards ‘assessment for learning’ (so that the process and results of assessment become an input for teaching and away from ‘assessment of learning’ that is summative and high stake (an output of teaching that is sterile in its power to improve learning). These assessments for learning may help to identify areas of difficulty and inform changes in instruction