New textbooks make positive changes in Kenyan classrooms
A few years ago, more than three children in Kenya had to share one math textbook, which had a negative impact in learning outcomes. Under the Primary Education Development program, funded by GPE, more than 7.6 million early grade math textbooks have been distributed to children in grades 1,2 and 3 in line with the government's goal of improving numeracy skills in early grades.
April 05, 2018 by Fazle Rabbani, Global Partnership for Education
5 minutes read
Student singing during class in Kenya. Credit: GPE/Fazle Rabbani
Student singing during class in Kenya.
Credit: GPE/Fazle Rabbani

‘Students are very active’, ‘My work has become easier’, ‘Even the parents learn from the books at home’- are some of the valuable comments I heard about the new math textbooks produced by a GPE-supported program in Kenya. A father of a student told me that he now spends the evenings at home helping his children do math homework. ‘It is so lovely to see all the children so engaged in an obviously under-resourced school’ was another observation about the new teaching methodology using a local song .

Improving numeracy skills

These books, along with a new teacher training program, a school grants scheme and a new range of teacher performance assessments are changing the ecology of primary education in rural Kenya.

Two weeks ago, I witnessed the changes as part of a supervision mission.

Kenya’s Primary Education Development (PRIEDE) program funded by GPE was designed to improve Kenyan children’s numeracy skills in grades 1,2 and 3.

Launched in 2015, the program has so far procured and distributed more than 7, 6 million early grade math textbooks. This means all children in grades 1,2 and 3 now have a math textbook compared to previous years when more than three children had to share one textbook.

Training teachers and supporting schools

More than 117,000 teachers have been trained in innovative ways of teaching math and have received teacher guides to support their ongoing teaching. Impact of the new training is monitored and teachers receive feedback on their performance. So far over 17,000 lessons have been observed by trained curriculum support officers. Data collected from classroom observations are also analyzed to improve teacher training and textbooks.

The PRIEDE program also provided grants of $4,000-$5,000 to poor performing schools against approved school improvement plans. The main objective of the grants is to improve school performance in Kenya’s primary certificate examination.  Exam scores are analyzed to identify which subjects need more attention and reported to each school. The reports are also available at Kenya’s National Examination Council website

Checking in on progress

The supervision mission was organized by the Kenyan ministry of education for assessing the progress of the project and identify challenges. School visits are always an integral part of supervision missions. Six teams, comprised of representatives of the ministry, World Bank, USAID, RTI, and the Canadian government went to six counties to visit a total of 20 schools. This time, the teams not only observed classrooms but also looked at how school records are maintained, talked to school boards about their views on school management and challenges of improving school performance.

Implemented by the ministry of education in collaboration with the World Bank as the GPE grant agent in Kenya, the project has maintained a satisfactory performance. Expanding the lessons and benefits of the project to other subject areas and to other schools is the next challenge for Kenya. Kenya is preparing to apply for another GPE grant by December 2018.

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Government publishing is never a good idea, and is rightfully shunned in all developed countries. So Kenya is taking a step backwards. No doubt this policy will be reversed some time in the future, and the problem of corruption of the book distribution chain can be fought more effectively than by simply burning it all down. Let us hope that the damage to the local educational publishing industry, that this policy has intentionally wrought, will be worth it.

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