How can Africa improve its learning assessment practices and boost learning recovery?

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In education management, assessment helps to determine the effectiveness of teaching and the various needs of an education system. However, the COVID-19 restrictions, and school closures that followed, complicated the use of traditional in-person or in-class learning assessment approaches. Even though the peak period of the pandemic made assessment more difficult, various countries adopted diversified strategies to respond to the imperative of assessing learning outcomes and measuring student progress. With the reopening of schools, assessment is especially critical because new learning always builds on prior learning. It is difficult to design effective instructional strategies or delivery approaches without a clear assessment of the educational needs and the student learning level to institute appropriate measures to address student learning losses. In this blog, we explore the learning assessment practices adopted by the 40 African partner countries of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), from school closures to reopenings. We also analyze the various challenges, lessons learned, and practical recommendations for policymakers and education practitioners to better prepare for future educational crises. The blog is based on the findings and recommendations of the KIX Observatory report on learning assessment.

Learning assessment measures and tools during school closures

Before the pandemic, there were already inequalities and challenges in the implementation of national learning assessment systems, including:

  1. Lack of guidelines on how to monitor and assess student learning during prolonged school closures, coupled with education systems that were poorly prepared to respond to the need for assessment during crises and beyond the classroom.
  2. Limited access to innovative instruments for assessment during emergencies. For example, the use of digital tools and the adoption of education technology for learning and assessment.
  3. Limited capacities of teachers and students to manage distance learning and adopt technology in learning and assessment.
  4. Absence of baseline information from which to gauge learning loss.
  5. Inadequate provisions for assessing vulnerable groups such as girls and boys in difficult circumstances – including in armed conflicts and natural disasters – and/or children with special learning needs.

To overcome these challenges, the 40 GPE countries adopted various methods to assess learning, continue with educational delivery, conduct national examinations and limit learning loss.1

Four common assessment practices

During school closures, many African countries tried to monitor the learning of students using a variety of approaches through distance learning solutions (DLS). The most common assessment practices included (i) homework assignments and quizzes, (ii)use of study packages and revision materials (iii)interactive Q&A through mobile phone-based SMS, and (iv) call-ins by learners.

Concerning homework assignments and quizzes, educators interviewed in Kenya and Ghana on how they assessed students when teaching virtually, revealed that the majority (70.8%) gave students quizzes while 15.4% used interview-based questions, and only 1.5% relied on assignments. The platforms allowed students to download and work offline as well as upload their work and receive feedback from teachers. These practices were unavailable to those using radio or television at home. Secondly, a Kenyan education project initiated by Isiolo Parents Association in partnership with the community radio, enrolled teachers to offer radio lessons. Students called-in and interacted with the teacher, providing an opportunity to assess whether students had understood the content of the day. Thirdly, interactive Q&A through mobile phone-based SMS was used through the Shupavu291 initiative, implemented by Eneza Education in collaboration with telecommunication companies in Kenya, Rwanda, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire. This free web-based application provided students with revision opportunities for school lessons, papers, and quizzes. The service also allowed parents and teachers to track student performance through the SMS service. Finally, countries such as Uganda also used print study packages, including revision papers, which the Ministry of Education and Sports distributed to approximately 2.5 million learners in primary and secondary schools. For the candidate grades, the revision papers were also shared online through WhatsApp, or hosted in learning portals.

Generally, there is little evidence on the extent to which these four practices were implemented and their level of effectiveness on learning.

Assessment delivery approaches

Apart from using television and radio lessons in all the 40 countries, countries also used different delivery methods for learning assessments during the COVID-19 pandemic, as presented in Table 1 below. Private schools mostly used internet-based delivery mechanisms while public schools deployed traditional print materials to deliver homework and quizzes to students.

Distance learning solution Countries Assessment practices
TV/Radio 40 (All except Burundi)
  • End of lesson evaluation quizzes
  • Call-ins by learners
Academic platforms e.g., Khan Academy, Seesaw, and Edo Basic Education Sector Transformation (EdoBEST); web-based platforms such as Zoom and Google Meet 28 (Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, DRC, Djibouti, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Tanzania, Uganda, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe)
  • Self-learning
  • End of lesson evaluation quizzes
  • Homework assignments
Social media e.g., WhatsApp. Facebook? Fragmented and not clear which social media was adopted/used by each country? However, WhatsApp is widely used in most SSA countries.
  • Homework assignments
  • Study packages and revision materials
SMS services such as Shupavu291 by Eneza Education 4 (Kenya, Rwanda, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire)
  • Interactive Q&A through SMS
  • Quizzes
Take home packages 20 (Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Ghana, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Zambia and Zimbabwe)
  • Study packages and revision materials
  • Homework assignments

Table 1: Distance learning solutions and in-built learning assessment practices

High-stakes examinations

The learning assessment report found that eight countries administered examinations as scheduled; 19 postponed and rescheduled; while six countries cancelled the examinations altogether for the 2020 school calendar year. Table 2 presents the various decisions made regarding the administration of the 2020 national examinations.

As scheduled (8 countries)

Rescheduled/Postponed (19 countries)

Cancelled exams in 2020 (6 countries)

No information (7 countries)

Burundi, DRC, Eritrea, Lesotho, Mozambique, Sudan, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania (including Zanzibar), The Gambia, Togo

Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, Cabo Verde, South Sudan, Djibouti

Chad, Comoros, Guinea-Bissau, Côte d’Ivoire, Madagascar, Niger, Republic of Congo

Table 2: Status of national examinations in GPE partner countries in 2020

Source: KIX Observatory Report on Learning Assessment during COVID-19 in Africa, April 2022​

Overall, the decisions on national examinations were informed by the need to keep students and educational personnel safe and healthy, while also adhering to the public health guidelines which included lockdowns.

Assessing learning loss after school reopening

IEPA-CGD survey of almost 3,700 households carried out from the 8th to 22nd of March in 2021 found that over 85 percent of parents said their children definitely or probably lost learning (Figure 1)


Figure 1. Parents’ perception on children’s learning loss (Source: IEPA-CGD survey, 2021)

51% of those parents who reported concerns about learning loss did not implement any measure to mitigate it. Poorer families were much less likely to take any action (26 %) than the richest families (72%) (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Percent of parents that arranged to recover learning loss and measures put in place (Source: IEPA-CGD survey)

However, lost learning time varied by country and the duration of school closures, ranging from 0 to 59 weeks, with Burundi recording no lost learning time, while Uganda had the highest lost time (Figure 3). Lost learning time and learning loss can be said to be intrinsically linked, with more lost time likely to lead to higher learning losses. This is compounded by the limited reach of Distance Learning Solutions (DLS), with the vulnerable, marginalized, and girls likely to have lost more learning time than their peers.

Figure 3: Learning loss time in weeks during school closures as of May 2021

Source: KIX Observatory Report on Learning Assessment during COVID-19 in Africa, April 2022.

To mitigate learning loss, especially among examination candidates, 65% of the GPE partner countries in Africa practiced partial school reopening. Moreover, to increase contact time as well as reduce loss of class time and learning, 60% of the countries initiated remedial programs, while 25% increased class time. The strategies were perceived to be fairly effective and only monitored in one-third (35%) of the countries. This highlighted the need for assessments on how much learning students lost during school closures. The assessments would act as a diagnostic tool for teachers and policymakers to design interventions to reduce such losses.

National Level (18 countries) Sub-national Level (3 countries) School Level (16 countries)
Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Cameroon, Eritrea, The Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Mozambique, Malawi, Niger, Sierra Leone, Sao Tome and Principe, Togo, Uganda, Zimbabwe Cameroon, Republic Congo, Liberia Benin, Burkina Faso, Botswana, Côte d'Ivoire, Cameroon, Eritrea, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Lesotho, Mauritius, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somalia

Table 3: GPE partner countries with plans to determine learning loss after reopening

Source: KIX Observatory Report on Learning Assessment during COVID-19 in Africa, April 2022.

Efforts to assess learning loss were also complemented with Citizen Led Assessment (CLA). For instance, in Uganda, before the onset of the pandemic, CLA had already been adopted to evaluate learning at the household level for children who were not enrolled in formal schooling or had low attendance rates. Similarly, in The Gambia, the government, through the Optimizing Assessment for All (OAA) project, developed tools for assessment in various subjects before the onset of the pandemic. Despite countries declaring their intentions to conduct assessments once schools reopened, there is little clarity on how many countries did so and the results of the efforts.

Learning assessments for vulnerable groups

Much is known about assessment for learning in well-resourced circumstances, and less in far more challenging situations. The KIX Observatory report deliberately focuses on the latter. This helps to develop ways of contributing to teaching and learning in the marginal and disadvantaged areas in which millions of school-age learners find themselves. We found out that vulnerable children were unlikely to participate in learning assessments, including national examinations that are usually used to determine who will progress to the next level of schooling. The COVID-19 pandemic increased learning poverty among girls, children with special needs, and women. Concerted monitoring and assessment efforts are required to fully understand its magnitude and design effective interventions such as accelerated learning to bridge the potential gaps.

Emerging evidence on assessment

Emerging research evidence related to assessment during the COVID-19 pandemic focused on learning loss and not diagnostic assessments, as was the case in the past. The table below presents the areas of focus:

Evidence areas of focus


Learning loss

  • Emerging evidence from small-scale studies and projections show potential learning loss.
  • Examine the magnitude of learning loss by different levels of vulnerability (gender, disability, poverty, education level, residence) and longevity of school closures.

Technology in monitoring learning and learning assessment

  • How to integrate technology in learning assessment and examinations.
  • Learning from institutions of higher education in Africa and beyond.
  • Documenting best EdTech practices that support learning assessment.

Evidence from studies and projections show a 10% increase in learning poverty because of prolonged school closures, and an estimated 100 million children are likely to fall below the minimum proficiency level in reading. Isolated evidence from Kenya indicates a decreased proportion of students attaining at least 50% in Mathematics and English, while in Zambia, 16% and 10% of children in grades 3 and 5, respectively, had dropped one level in literacy and numeracy skills. It was reported in the African Development Bank’s 2021 Economic Outlook, that the impact of learning loss arising from COVID-19 related school closures would result in losses to lifetime earnings that range from 43% to 61% of current GDP in low-income countries.


The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has enabled educators to demonstrate their resilience, flexibility and readiness to adapt with what is available to what is needed, especially in the area of learning assessment. Yet, there are still areas that would need improvement and greater consideration as we learn and prepare for future crisis. The KIX Observatory report on learning assessment, backed by data in its live tracker, calls for action through the following recommendations:

  • Development of policies on how to monitor the learning of students during periods of prolonged school closure. This will provide frameworks and guidelines on how students can be monitored and assessed while promoting inclusivity. These policies need to appreciate the need to move beyond physical classrooms; recognize inequality of access to remote learning; promote the use of hybrid systems; and anticipate the resources required to realize such initiatives.
  • Building the capacity of teachers and schools on the use of digital technology for the assessment of learning is needed. Critical areas for capacity building include: (i) mainstreaming digital technology in assessment systems; and (ii) enhancing the resilience of the education system to adequately respond to assessment needs.
  • Provide assistance to enhance parental capacity to support home learning for children caught up in similar circumstances to the pandemic. Support can be provided by creating awareness and forging connections between parents and schools.
  • Blending and complementing in-person assessment processes with alternative approaches such as EdTech to reach more students and monitoring learning during crises. For example, the use of technology by students and teachers can enhance the conduct of formative assessments. Additionally, technology can enhance self-evaluation as students are automatically scored and provided with solutions after completing an assessment. However, this should be treated with caution, so as not to exclude students who have little or no access to EdTech
  • Continuous monitoring of learning loss by analysing and comparing emerging assessment data with that from the pre-pandemic period.


[1] Today, many development stakeholders are involved in addressing the learning crisis in sub-Saharan Africa. Their initiatives very often focus on curricula review, teacher training, and learning assessment. There is, however, a lack of coordination among the various interventions, and the contributions of the various stakeholders are not built upon for the benefit of all countries in the region. TALENT, a platform where ADEA Network for African Learning Assessment (NALA) is actively involved, was set up in 2016 to address these shortcomings.