Across East Africa, huge progress has been made in basic education in the last decade. Enrolments are up in both primary and secondary education, with millions more able to go to school. Tens of thousands of classrooms have been built and tens of thousands of teachers have been added to the rolls. These are no easy feats; they have required significant political commitment and larger allocations of public resources. Parents too have scrambled to cover their share, for even free education is never quite free, with costs of uniforms, books and pens, extra tuition, and transport.

What matters most, however, is how these achievements translate into concrete improvements in children’s competencies. The point of schooling is to enable every child to develop the knowledge and wherewithal to thrive in the world – starting with basic skills in literacy and numeracy that form the foundation of the ability to be curious, think, listen, ask questions, analyze, synthesize and communicate with confidence. Are our schools succeeding in this responsibility? The truly important measure then is not how many children are signed up to school (enrolment) or  even how many are showing up in school (attendance), but how many of our children are learning?