Investing in Learning Outcomes: Reflections from Kenya’s 2022 KCPE Exams
It is now widely acknowledged that there is a global learning crisis. The World Bank estimates that up to 70% of children in the developing world could have fallen into “learning poverty”—the inability to read and understand a simple text by the age of 10. It estimates that learning poverty has increased by a third in low and middle-income countries, many of them in Sub-Saharan Africa. The World Bank has described the situation as possibly “the most serious crisis in education in 100 years.”
As experts around the world scramble to find solutions, there are some glimmers of hope. An independent study carried out in Kenya by a team of scholars led by the Nobel Prize-winning economist, Professor Michael Kremer, found that the Bridge Academies’ Methodology yielded “among the largest learning gains ever measured in international education.” Released at the 2022 World Economic Forum, the ground-breaking study titled Can Education be Standardized? Evidence from Kenya found impacts 8 to 14 times larger in Bridge Academies than the median effect previously identified in international education.
Technology-enhanced learning at Bridge Academies
The Bridge Academies provide access to high-quality, basic education among underserved low-income communities in Kenya. Bridge uses Kenya’s national Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) to create and deliver world-class lessons and optimizes learning through the corporation of technology. Bridge teachers use tablets to deliver scripted lesson guides that standardize lesson delivery, while simultaneously improving teacher monitoring and lesson delivery in class.
A recent World Bank policy paper highlighted the Bridge methodology, stating that “scripting may be a promising way to improve and standardize the quality of education at scale.”
Impressive performance in national examinations
In the 2022 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination results, Bridge pupils outperformed Kenya’s national KCPE average yet again, for eight consecutive years since the first cohort took the examinations in 2015. KCPE is a high-stakes examination in which a pupil’s performance determines the type of secondary school they will attend, consequently holding a strong bearing on their prospects for the future.
Figure 1: In the 2022 KCPE examinations, Bridge pupils outperformed the national average for the eighth consecutive year.
KCPE candidates who score more than 400 marks in KCPE fall within the top 1% of the national performance index and typically get placed in national schools. National schools are elite public secondary schools, equipped with the best facilities in the country to enable a high standard of learning for their students. In the 2023 secondary school placements following the 2022 KCPE results, 34 Bridge pupils were called up to join national schools.
Gender parity in top academic performance
Of the 34 Bridge pupils placed in national schools following the 2022 KCPE results, half (17) were girls and the other half were boys. This 50% split in excellence between girls and boys affirms the Kremer study’s finding that the Bridge methodology ensures gender parity in the classroom, with girls making the same leap in learning as boys, regardless of how long they have attended a Bridge school.
This entrenched culture of gender parity is one of the proudest achievements of the Bridge Academies in Kenya.
Figure 2: Comparative gender performance compared with the number of years spent at a Bridge Academy.
Standardization for better learning outcomes
In their study, Kremer and his colleagues contend that the gains achieved in Bridge Academies would—if replicated at scale across public education systems—be enough to put Kenyan children on track to match their peers in countries like Mexico and Peru, whose incomes are three or four times higher than Kenya’s.
“This study shows that attending schools delivering highly standardized education has the potential to produce dramatic learning gains at scale, suggesting that policymakers may wish to explore the incorporation of standardization, including standardized lesson plans and teacher feedback and monitoring, in their own systems,” the Kremer report reads in part.
The learning outcomes from Bridge Kenya resonate with this depiction of transformative education as a path to economic advancement. The findings from the Kremer study suggest that incorporating such progressive approaches into Kenya’s public schooling system could in the long-term yield a better-educated, more prosperous country.
Kenyan education policymakers would do well to embrace the emerging shift in focus from schooling to investment in actual learning outcomes.