News / Africa

Kenya Schools Decline in English, Ki’Swahili Language Skills

Pupils at the Olympic primary school sit in class on without a teacher on the third day of a teachers' strike organized by the Kenya National Union of Teachers, in Nairobi, Kenya, September 7, 2011.
Pupils at the Olympic primary school sit in class on without a teacher on the third day of a teachers' strike organized by the Kenya National Union of Teachers, in Nairobi, Kenya, September 7, 2011.

Results for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examinations are headline news Thursday in Nairobi, showing top academic performances. Amid the jubilation, however, there are concerns about Kenyan students' declining performances in English and Ki'Swahili, as compared to other African countries. Also noteworthy - the fourth-best student in the country is a refugee from South Sudan.

Minister of Education Sam Ongeri was quoted as saying he thinks the primary school system’s relatively poor performance in Kenya’s two official languages, Ki’Swahili and English, is due to Kenyans’ heavy use of a language called “sheng” - slang terms especially popular among urban youth.

Sara Ruto is regional manager of Uwezo East Africa, a program to improve literacy and numeracy among children in Kenya,Tanzania and Uganda. She thinks students’ poor literacy performance is not due so much to sheng as it is to teachers using Ki’Swahili, English and their mother tongues all at the same time.

“Nobody is paying close attention to teaching whatever skills they [have], be they oral [or] written. So you’ll find a person will start speaking a sentence in English or Ki’Swahili, maybe pick a few words, [and] complete the sentence in another language. It means that we need to invest more in teaching a whole understanding, comprehension, of a language in its totality,” said Ruto.

Tanzania takes top spot

Last year, the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality, or SACMEQ, released a study ranking Kenya fifth out of 15 African countries on students’ reading ability. Top performers were Tanzania, Seychelles and Mauritius, while the bottom scorers were Zambia and Malawi.

Uwezo’s Ruto explains why she thinks Tanzania is tops compared to Kenya.

“Their system has paid attention to Ki’Swahili. I think that if you have grasped the skill in one language, it is easier for you to grasp in another," she said. "In Tanzania, there are so many community newspapers. Ki’Swahili is spoken in most places - at home and then again at school.  And so you will see there is a little bit more continuity. And also, the skill of reading: you can find it in many more places.”

But some students still excel. Results of the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examinations were on newspaper front pages Thursday all over Kenya, with pictures of students who earned top marks.

South Sudan refugee student shines

One picture stood out in particular: that of South Sudanese refugee Kuol Tito Yak, who lived in Kakuma Refugee Camp until joining Uthiru Genesis Primary school in Standard Three. He scored fourth overall, and the first in Kiambu County.

Lual Dau is head of the Southern Sudanese Students’ Association in Kenya. He said, although he does not know Kuol personally, South Sudanese take education very seriously.

“We are going to reform the new country [South Sudan] - it will be through education, of what we learned. That is what we can take home because there is nothing in Southern Sudan,” said Lual.

The results highlighted other education trends. The top two students were from the capital Nairobi. Coastal area schools performed poorly.  All top 10 positions were taken by students studying at private schools, and there are almost as many girls as boys in the primary school system overall.

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs