In America, the culture has always respected the role of education as a means of improving the opportunities for prosperity from one generation to the next. In fact, because we highly prize education, some parents start their children in school as young as eighteen months in order to prepare them for the best possible future.
Unfortunately, in many developing countries, educational opportunities can vary dramatically, and economic pressures can have a major impact on the quality of schooling a child can expect.
The situation in Zambia is a case in point. Its educational systems are an ongoing and developing project, and there are many disparities that negatively impact the opportunities available to the Zambian population.
At face value, Zambia’s education system has a very similar structure to schools in the United States. The educational system is set up in a 7-5-4 structure, with primary/elementary, middle/junior starting at age seven and lasting seven years, and secondary/senior schools until age 19. If students choose, they can pursue a four-year degree following their graduation.
While the fact that more than 91% of Zambia’s children complete primary school is a statistic worth celebrating at face value, there are serious regional disparities that need to be addressed (UNICEF). For example, only about 81% of northern children complete primary school and even fewer — 79% — complete primary school in the capital city of Lusaka. Within those percentages, there are also gender differences that must be considered, with female students completing schooling at a rate about 10% lower than their male peers.
Once students complete primary school, only about 67% of students make their way to middle school and even fewer to secondary school. In these grade levels too, young women continue to be affected disproportionally because many of them are limited in their attendance due to a lack of hygienic menstrual facilities.
There are several problems that plague Zambia’s developing school system beyond lack of sanitation facilities. Zambia struggles with insufficient tools and resources, unprepared teachers and subsequent poor education, and poor continuing education rates.
Further, Zambia’s struggle with social issues exacerbates the education problems. For example, HIV is rampant in Zambia with at least 50% of people living with the disease. HIV affects primary school attendance and teachers because many students orphaned by the disease never go to school or go to school hungry or exhibit behavioral problems. Teachers don’t get the support to help deal with these issues.
Beyond these issues, Zambia’s Ministry of Education is unsatisfied with their current school and education opportunities. Zambia’s Ministry of Education has a variety of initiatives they are moving toward improving, including relevance, efficiency, equity and lack of qualified teachers.
In fact, many teachers are volunteers who travel to Zambia just to teach. A quick Google search produces pages of volunteer opportunities to teach children in Zambia. While volunteering is important and an amazing opportunity, many times the individuals do not hold certifications to teach in their own country. With that said, it’s important to have a healthy balance of volunteers helping students and qualified, educated teachers to guide the volunteers to make the best impact possible.
Zambia intentionally made policy changes to address access to schooling for children as early as 1986. The government is continuing to allocate more financial resources and policies to help resolve some of these issues. Improving education is a primary focus for many government officials in Zambia.
In 2021, Jabbin Mulwanda, Ministry of General Education Permanent Secretary, participated in a Global Partnership for England in South West London and said:
“The Republic of Zambia is committed to supporting our national education sector by protecting and increasing the share of the national budget dedicated to education towards the global 20% benchmark. The education shares in 2021 were 11.8%; in 2022, it will be at 13.19%; and by 2023, we commit to increasing this by 14.25%. These projections are aligned to the country’s medium-term expenditure framework.”
In addition to these financial goals set by Zambia, many organizations and initiatives have stepped up to help solve some of the issues that Zambia struggles with by targeting specific objectives. Organizations like Cross Catholic Outreach hope to tackle the hygiene and water issues in addition to improving the quality of materials to make the most of the first seven years that students are enrolled in primary school.
The solutions are out there, but more work is needed. While many people are working diligently to empower change in Zambia, there is still plenty of work to do. Cross Catholic Outreach is tirelessly working toward change in developing and underdeveloped countries. We challenge you to become part of the work! Learn about our educational efforts in Zambia and find out how you can help!
Proceeds from this campaign will be used to cover any expenditures incurred through June 30, 2024, the close of our ministry’s fiscal year. In the event that more funds are raised than needed to fully fund the project, the excess funds, if any, will be used to meet the most urgent needs of the ministry.