East African Countries Unlikely to Achieve MDG on Education, But Progress is Steady

Standard One pupils at Moro Municipal Primary School in Tanzania. The number of children being enrolled in schools in the five EAC states has increased.
Standard One pupils at Moro Municipal Primary School in Tanzania. The number of children being enrolled in schools in the five EAC states has increased.
Standard One pupils at Moro Municipal Primary School in Tanzania. The number of children being enrolled in schools in the five EAC states has increased.


A recently published UNSCO report shows that all 5 countries of the East African Community (EAC)- Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda,Tanzania and Uganda, failed to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on access to Universal Primary Education and Education for All targets.


In Summary

  • With an Education for All (EFA) development index (EDI) score of less than 0.80, the five EAC members, like most sub-Saharan African states are still far from reaching the goal.
  • UNSCO says that although progress has been made globally, only a third of the countries in the world have met all the measurable EFA targets and one half of them have not reached the most watched goal of Universal Primary Education.
  • In addition to poverty, UNESCO says barriers to education include children’s gender, caste, ethnic and linguistic background as well as disability, geographical location and livelihood.

The enrolment in Burundi went up from 705,000 to 1,981,000 children between 1999 and 2012 while in Uganda the numbers increased from 6,288,000 to 8,098,000. Whereas, In Rwanda, the school enrolment numbers surged from 1,289,000 to 2,395,000 while Tanzania almost doubled the figure to 8,247,000.

Apart from increasing the number of children being enrolled in school, all EAC members will also manage to achieve or are expected to attain gender parity in primary school. Another 12 countries will attain this goal in sub-Saharan Africa and six are close to the target while the Central African Republic will be the only country not to reach it.

The EAC has also done well in making sure that education financing goes where it is needed the most by using funding to introduce initiatives to make education more accessible.

Uganda and Burundi have scrapped school fees, while Tanzania has financed well targeted initiatives to help the most disadvantaged including the poorest and disabled children. Rwanda has made its allocation of education funding more equal between rural and urban areas.

Tanzania has also impressed by its gender sensitive curriculum and the tremendous efforts made to reduce early pregnancy rates. More than 8,000 girls have been dropping out due to early pregnancies, making it one of the major factors in curtailing girl education.

Its top marks have also come from the introduction of water facilities in communities to ensure girls too go to school instead of spending hours collecting water.

The list of policy interventions Tanzania carried out to achieve its universal primary enrolment in an equitable manner is extensive. It also has an education plan specifically for its nomad population, it has textbooks in braille, and has abolished school fees to prevent cost barriers for the poor.

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Still More to Do

However, the bloc’s other major failures include reducing adult literacy and reaching gender parity in secondary education. Rwanda stands out as the only country in sub-Saharan Africa that has been close to reaching the gender parity target in secondary education.

Burundi is the only EAC member that will achieve the set 50 per cent reduction in adult illiteracy target. Its illiterate population fell to 641,000 from 1,376,000 between 1995 and 2012. In Uganda, adult illiteracy decreased by 32 per cent during the period. The number of illiterate Ugandans increased to 4,589,000 during 2004-2012 from 4,131,000 in 1995 to 2004.

In Tanzania, the situation worsened to nearly eight million illiterate adults between 2004 and 2012 from about six million between 1995 to 2004.

The abolition of school fees in Kenya in 2003 largely failed to catalyse enrolment of nomads in schools, despite the fact that its policy initiative for nomadic communities is one of the most developed one.

There is also a lack of sufficient and trained teachers, especially for pre-primary education, in which East Africa lags far behind the enrolment target ratio of 80 per cent.

Kenya is the best performer in the region, but it is in the low level category, where enrolment ranges between 30 per cent and 69 per cent. In 1999, Kenya had nearly 1.2 million children in pre-primary schools.

With a ratio of less than 30 per cent, Rwanda and Burundi are in the very low level group. The two countries had fewer than 200,000 children in pre-primary schools in 2012.

None of the EAC member states achieved the 80 per cent pre-primary enrolment rate. All have been far off from achieving the target, with Burundi only managing an eight per cent enrolment rate, Rwanda 13 per cent, Uganda 14 per cent, Tanzania 34 per cent and Kenya 43 per cent.The UNESCO report says teacher absenteeism also impacts negatively on students’ learning.

In Ghana, Kenya, Senegal and Uganda, teacher absenteeism in primary education is estimated to exceed 20 per cent. In many countries, the availability of textbooks and other reading materials remains severely limited.

While there is no current UNESCO data on Tanzania and Kenya, the agency’s figures show that children out of school now stand at 81,000; 23,000 and 663,000 in Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda respectively.

Although the 2015 deadline is likely to be missed, some significant progress has been made and more can be achieved if the requisite resources are mobilised.