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A pupil from Kibera primary school teaching his fellow classmates in file photo. [File, Standard]

With current average global health and education standards the chances of a child to thrive after school is slightly above 50 per cent.

Some children from more than 100 countries including superpower USA cannot read and understand a simple story by age 10 according to a World Bank brief titled Learning Poverty dated October 15, 2019.

Remarkably, in the brief, Kenya does not feature in the list of learning poverty countries that features 21 states from Africa with neighbouring Uganda included.

Quoting the Human Capital Index (ability of humans to perform), the brief says if you give birth to a child today, the chances of him or her to be successful after the age of 18 with the skills and knowledge acquired is only 56 per cent.

This is because of learning poverty which denies pupils their basic and rightful foundation for their future.

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The brief defines learning poverty as the inability to read and understand a text by age 10.  

 According to the document, 230 million children are not in school and 53 per cent of those learning in developing countries cannot read and understand a simple story. 

"Currently, 53 percent of children in low- and middle-income countries cannot read and understand a simple story by the end of primary school. In poor countries, the level is as high as 80 percent," it is reported.

The ability to read and understand equips a pupil with knowledge and skills which add value to oneself. With these stats, some children's future is doomed hence most likely to fail to thrive after school. 

Adds the report: "They don't acquire the human capital they need to power their careers and economies once they leave school or the skills that will help them become engaged citizens and nurture healthy, prosperous families."

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The quality and quantity of schools are the leading contributors to skills and knowledge deficit and that explains why some countries are more developed than others, why America is more advanced than Africa. 

"While human capital makes up 41 per cent of wealth in poor countries, in high-income Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, human capital makes up over 70 per cent of the wealth."

With current average global health and education standards, a child born today will be 44 per cent unproductive when he or she reaches the adult minimum age of 18, meaning the chances of a child to thrive after school is slightly above 50 per cent. 

"The average Human Capital Index (HCI) score across countries is 0.56; this means that by the age of 18, a child born today will be only 56 percent as productive as a child would be under the benchmark of a complete education and full health." 

The high illiteracy levels recorded above jeopardises global educational goals and put the viability of other Sustainable Development Goals at risk.  

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"If children cannot read, it is clear that all education SDGs are at risk. Eliminating learning poverty is as important as eliminating extreme monetary poverty, stunting, or hunger," read the report. 

According to World Bank, some of the SDGs' aspirations that are set to be implemented by the year 2030 might take longer since the progress of reducing learning poverty is very slow. 

By 2030, the brief notes that the learning poverty rate would have reduced by only 10 percent an average of one per cent per year. At this rate, it will take approximately 53 years to completely eradicate learning poverty. 

"Even if countries reduce their learning poverty at the fastest rates we have seen so far in this century, the goal of ending it will not be attained by 2030."


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World Bank has accepted the fact that it cannot achieve the goal of eradicating poverty learning by the year 2030. 

Therefore, it has come up with an ambitious but quite realistic goal of slashing the learning poverty rate by half by the said year. 

To achieve the current set goal, all countries are required to improve learning and triple the global rate of progress of the SDGs. 

According to the 2019 SDGs progress chart, in sub-Saharan Africa, undernourishment is still very high in the attempts to end hunger while children's proficiency to read after completing primary school is still very low.

Another solution to reduce learning poverty is through the introduction of three pillars namely a literacy policy package, a refreshed education approach, and an ambitious measurement and research agenda.

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The literacy policy package aimed to boost the literacy levels of children through components like reading assessments, training of teachers and improving schools and learning environment. 

World Bank will also venture into a new approach of education systems so that literacy improvements can be sustained and scaled up and all other education outcomes can be achieved.

In partnership with UNESCO institute for statistics, the brief adds that World Bank will invest highly in research and innovation on how to build foundational skills and also help countries strengthen their learning assessment systems and monitor their students.

The World Bank averred that education initiatives alone are not enough to win the fight against learning poverty because for a lion to be tied down, spiders must unite. 

"The fight against learning poverty will require an integral, multi-sectoral approach supported by actions beyond the education sector. For example, ensuring that all children can learn requires better water and sanitation, improved health and nutrition, better social protection for disadvantaged populations, civil service reforms, and strengthened management and financing of public services."

The responsibilities have also been extended to communities and families to actively join and help their children attain high reading proficiency. ?

Learning poverty World Bank UNESCO institute for statistics Sustainable Development Goals

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