LUSAKA, Zambia — In 2009, Benny Chilesche Katewa, a young man from Zambia, graduated from high school and started his college career at Mulungushi University, studying agricultural business management. Katewa’s academic success, however, remains uncommon in Zambia as education past primary school has high costs and often yields little return in the job market.
In a Zambia Scholarship Fund Student & Sponsor Highlight article, Katewa wrote, “It has been very difficult for me to be in school because of financial constraints. I never imagined I would go far in my education because my mother, who sells at the market to support the family, did not earn enough to finance my education.” Fortunately, the Zambia Scholarship Fund, via private donations, paid for Katewa’s education expenses. The government of Zambia strives for more academic success stories but still struggles to meet this goal despite recent improvements to the education system.
According to American Center Cultural Affairs Assistant Patricia M. Namala, “A long-standing educational goal in Zambia has been that every child who enters Grade 1 should be able to complete Grade 9.” In Namala’s country profile, she documents that less than 50 percent of students attend primary school in Zambia.
In 2002, the government of Zambia established free basic education, allowing students to attend primary school, first through seventh grade, at no cost. The government also created a re-entry into school program for female students who become pregnant. More recently, the Zambian government, USAID, UKAID and Irish Aid initiated a reading campaign to create one million more readers in Zambia by 2016. Zambia UNICEF also granted $180,000 to support transportation for researchers monitoring education in Zambia.
According to UNICEF, although Zambia successfully increased education access and gender equality, many children remain out of school or do not complete the primary cycle. Currently, a UNICEF-supported study is attempting to understand this trend.
School location and student-to-teacher ratio contribute to the low attendance rate. In 2011, The World Bank recorded a teacher/pupil ratio of one to 63. Furthermore, few schools exist in rural sections of Zambia, leaving students to travel for miles on foot to attend school. These issues continue to be prevalent when students test to enter high school. While student exam scores have improved significantly since the implementation of free basic education, about 54,000 out of 337,706 students failed the seventh grade testing.
For students that do complete primary school and pass testing, high school is rarely an option as these grades remain tuition-based. According to the Zambia Education Fund Organization, the government of Zambia struggles to provide free education for all grades due to the low tax base of the economy. Few Zambians have jobs that can be taxed. Therefore, free education at the primary level is dependent on other government or non-governmental sources. These funds cannot support free high school education as well.
In 2012, Zambia President Micheal Zata stated, “Our aspiration is to put together a well-organized, valuable and reliable public education system through substantial investments in educational infrastructure.” Zata’s remarks suggest that the government plans to institute more programs to further improve education in Zambia.
Sources: University of Szeged, Global Voices Online, UNICEF, Zambia Scholarship Fund
Photo: Start Up Nations