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In their latest publication ‘Facing Forward: Schooling for Learning in Africa’, the World Bank and Agence Française de Développement identify ways forward to improve learning outcomes and build the required knowledge capital that will drive social and economic change on the continent. With little evidence from research and practice available, VVOB shares its good practices from working in South Africa, DR Congo, Rwanda and Zambia.

High access, low learning outcomes

The ‘Schooling for Learning in Africa’ report pointedly shows how most sub-Saharan African countries have made tremendous progress towards achieving universal access to basic education.  While the gross enrolment rate (GER) of a country like South Africa was already close to 100% in 2000, the GER of countries such as DR Congo grew with 40%.


But challenges remain. In many countries on the continent, including Rwanda, GERs are far above 100%. Often, this is indicative of large and heterogeneous classes, where children of different ages and at different stages of development are learning together.


Considering that: only a small fraction of African children learn in their mother tongue for the recommended 6 years (see page 170 of the report); that learning materials and aids are scarce; and that teachers have limited pedagogical skills; it is not surprising that the publication reports low levels of learning and high levels of formal and informal grade repetition.


The World Bank and Agence Française de Développement identify how to move forward:

  1. unblock the early grade ‘traffic jam’ (or grade repetition) and ensure progression to lower secondary education,
  2. set up an efficient teacher management and support system,
  3. better use of educational budgets, and
  4. build capacity of education ministries and partners. 

Unblocking the early grade ‘traffic jam’

To unblock the traffic jam and stimulate progression towards the secondary level, improving learning outcomes in the early years of education is a priority. In Zambia, VVOB supports grade 3, 4 and 5 pupils to acquire basic skills in literacy and numeracy through “Teaching at the Right Level” (TaRL). This method, first developed by Pratham in India, groups learners according to their performance instead of age and makes use of learner-centered pedagogies rather than traditional chalk-and-talk methods.


Teachers from 1,800 schools in Zambia’s Eastern and Western provinces have been or are being trained to implement the methodology with daily one-hour ‘catch-up’ sessions for young learners outside the school hours. Initial results show that the percentage of learners that can read a simple paragraph or story increased respectively by 7 percentage points (p.p.) (from a base of 29%) and 13 p.p. (from a base of 59%) in Southern and Eastern province after a single term; while the percentage of learners able to subtract two-digit numbers went up by 14 p.p.


Preparing young learners to start schooling pays off as well. In recent years, the Ministry of General Education in Zambia has started in