As we kick off a new year of Outreach and begin our work with Mabera schools, I would like to reflect on the need that Nuru’s Education team targets. As our programs grow, we remain intently focused on the needs of the communities we serve and work to ensure our program’s target those needs and generate real impact.

Nuru’s Education Program aims to address the lack of access to quality primary education through targeted literacy workshops for public, primary school-aged children living in rural areas experiencing extreme poverty. The lack of access to quality primary education results in widespread failure to attain basic literacy.

Access to free primary education is ineffective if children are not learning. Many low income countries have been recognized for their recent progress toward achieving education for all. Much of this progress has been generated by inputs – the provision of infrastructure and the addition of schools, teachers and physical resources. However, this progress does not consistently correlate with improvements in basic literacy or in the quality of education provided. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) “provides a composite measure of progress, encompassing access, equity and quality”[1] in its annual Education for All Development Index (EDI)[2]. The reports consistently indicate low EDI results in sub-Saharan Africa despite increasing school participation rates[3]. These rates are determined by a combination of factors including primary school enrollment rates and survival rate to grade 5 (which is used as a measure of quality). EDI results indicate that the quality of education is particularly poor in sub-Saharan Africa, suggesting that interventions targeting access to quality education are needed to supplement the global efforts to provide free, compulsory primary education.

Many organizations and statisticians rely on enrollment rates to generate conclusions about learning. Few organizations focus on learning outcomes, such as the attainment of basic literacy. At Nuru, we believe our understanding of learning outcomes is essential for informing interventions. We have partnered with Uwezo, an organization focused on providing independent, publicly available data on learning levels that is intent on shifting the focus from “educational inputs to learning outcomes.” [4]  We have partnered with them to adapt their Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) tool for use at the school level to develop our understanding of literacy levels within our partner schools. Uwezo’s methodology was developed from Pratham’s Annual Status of Education Report (ASER).

Proponents of the both the educational inputs and learning outcomes approaches will find the same results; in East Africa, the quality of education is low and children are not achieving basic literacy levels. The following bullets and charts provide context for the need as well as for Nuru’s decision to focus on basic literacy.

  • Recent studies demonstrate that learning rather than time spent schooling drives economic growth. The National Bureau of Economic Research claims “a ten percentage point increase in the share of students reaching basic literacy is associated with 0.3 percentage points higher annual growth.”[5]
  • In Kenya, “7 out of 10 children in class 3 cannot do class 2 work. Learning levels are poorest in arid districts and in Western Province.”[6] In addition, “more than two out of every three pupils enrolled at Standard 3 level in East Africa fail to pass basic tests in English, Kiswahili or numeracy set at the Standard 2 level.”[7]
  • Nuru does not prioritize education for girls but rather focuses on all primary school-aged children. In East Africa, “there are minimal differences in test scores between boys and girls: gender disparities do not appear to be significant in the early years of education.”[8]

The following figures illustrate the need for basic literacy support:

Figure 1: 2012 Uwezo findings demonstrating that less than 1/3 of pupils in East Africa possess basic literacy and numeracy skills.[9]

Figure 1- Uwezo

Figure 2:2012 Uwezo findings demonstrating literacy levels by socio-economic status. Findings indicate significantly lower pass rates among those living in extreme poverty (our target population) at all ages.[10]

Figure 2-Uwezo


[1] UNESCO, “Education for All Development Index,” 2010

[2] UNESCO, “Education for All Development Index,” 2011

[3] UNESCO, “Education for All Development Index,” 2010, p. 278-279

[4] Uwezo, Uwezo, “Are Our Children Learning? Literacy and Numeracy Across East Africa” 2012, p. 5

[5] Eric A. Hanushek and Ludger Woessmann, “Do Better Schools Lead to More Growth? Cognitive Skills, Economic Outcomes, and Causation,” NBER Working Paper Series, 2009 p. 23

[6] Uwezo, “Are Our Children Learning? Annual Learning Assessment Report,” 2011, p. 3

[7] Uwezo, “Are Our Children Learning? Literacy and Numeracy Across East Africa” 2012, p. 3

[8] Uwezo, “Are Our Children Learning? Literacy and Numeracy Across East Africa” 2012, p. 3

[9] Uwezo, “Are Our Children Learning? Literacy and Numeracy Across East Africa” 2012, p. 11

[10] Uwezo, “Are Our Children Learning? Literacy and Numeracy Across East Africa” 2012, p. 18