In the 5 years Bookbus has been active in Zambia we have worked in a variety of schools, from preschools to high schools, government funded to volunteer run, from 35 pupils to 1800 but one thing is always common throughout, the eagerness of the children to learn. They see education as the key to improving their situation in life. Even on holidays and through teacher’s strikes the kids turn up at school just to see if anyone will teach them. Nearly all prefer term time to the three, one month, slots of holidays they get!!
The education system in
from a severe lack of funds, materials and teachers. But that said, the pupils
are some of the most willing and keen to learn that you will find anywhere. And
everywhere we have arrived with the Bookbus and taught, within Zambia, we have
been greeted with enthusiasm, curiosity, open arms and big smiles. Zambia
Basic state education begins when a child is 6 or 7 with grade 1. Grade 1 to grade 7 comprises basic education which should include every child and should be free. This is, however, not the case. Many children do not attend school either because of the cost or because they have to work, take care of a sick relative or new baby or do chores around the homestead. To attend a basic school the pupil must have a uniform, school shoes and bag, exercise books and pencils and this list obviously excludes many children and there are often unofficial “fees” to pay. These can be monetary or in the form of “donations”, for example a child must bring a bag of cement or a ream of paper before he or she can enrol for the school year.
At the end of grade 7 a pupil sits exams and only if passes are obtained can they continue to grade 8 & 9 and the same happens in grade 9 to be able to complete school up to grade 12. There are relatively high fees to be paid every year from grade 8 upwards so many intelligent children end up leaving their education early.
The students take 7 subjects up to grade 7. These being: English, Mathematics, CTS (creative, technological studies - where there is no actual creative work done – it’s all theory!), SDS (social development studies),
As well as the government schools, Zambia has a large number of Community schools which were originally developed for children who could not afford to attend government schools. They were started by members of the community, often under a tree or in a church building. These schools are under-funded, under-resourced and operate with a lack of trained teachers, they have to have finished high school but have no formal teacher training although they mostly have real passion to teach the children. Nowadays the government has realized the importance of these schools, especially in areas where the population is growing and some are beginning to be integrated within the ministry of education, operating with a mixture of paid trained teachers and volunteer teachers, who mostly obtain a small salary from the community.
Basic government schools are usually a little better equipped and resourced than the community schools but the classrooms are just as bare, the teachers often have huge classes and very little materials but the children are keen to learn wherever you go.
Whichever type of school we visit it is important to always bear certain things in mind which are very different from what we are used to in the UK and the Western world. Classes can be huge with a normal class being 40 to 50 pupils but anywhere up to 100 is possible. The children aren’t used to being asked for their own opinions, being creative or working in small groups, education in Zambia is very much learning by rote. They aren’t used to any creative subjects, things like art, drama or music. There simply aren’t the resources, training or equipment available and no provision in their curriculum, and because the classes are overcrowded small group work never occurs.
Classes may have a wide range of ages. This is because some children do not start school until they are older, maybe it is too far to walk when they are 7, sometimes they have to miss a year to two if their family needs them to work, or care for a sick relative or maybe they can’t afford the fees.
There is always a very wide ability range in the grasp of English, some pupils may be fluent whilst others struggle with the simplest sentences. You also find that many can read out loud but then have no understanding of what they have read. It is often that the ability of a child’s English is greatly influenced by their home situation (whether they speak English at home) and not just by their schooling. It’s important to remember that English is not their first language, most of them speak 3 or 4 African languages perfectly but they ALL want to learn English. It is the official language of Zambia and without a good grasp of it jobs with good prospects are out of reach.
And one important thing – do not equate Zambian children’s ages and their interests with those of children at home. Teenage boys are just as fascinated with the storybooks and the art supplies the project brings, as the preschoolers! They have never had access to the things which we take for granted. The enthusiasm for learning is everywhere and joining the Bookbus as a volunteer will let you experience this all first hand!
Kelly July 2013.