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EDUCATION-ZAMBIA: Communities Doing it For Themselves

Danstan Kaunda

LUSAKA, Feb 3 2009 (IPS) - “My mother has no job and she cannot afford the cost of educating me and my sister at the government school,” says 12-year-old Muyunda Nyamba. But the little boy is one of 37,000 children from Zambia’s poorest neighbourhoods beginning the new school year calendar at community-run schools.

Nyamba’s situation is typical for many of the 520,000 Zambian children the Ministry of Education estimates do not attend school. Kanyama is a crowded urban township with a population of around 200,000 inhabitants on the outskirts of Lusaka, Zambia’s capital city.

High poverty levels have contributed to pupils dropping out of government and privately-owned schools.

“We moved to this school after my dad died. He had a prolonged chest infection… TB,” Nyamba says.

Community schools come in all shapes and sizes. The one Nyamba attends is run by a single trainee teacher. Nyamba and some 200 other children gather every morning in an old building belonging to the Catholic church. They operate with limited resources, making do with obsolete learning aids donated by international aid agencies.

Community schools are formed wherever high school fees or long distances to government schools hinder access for poor children. They provide education to orphans and vulnerable children and others excluded from government school system.

In 2004, government introduced free education from first to seventh grade in all government-run schools. But there are still charges such as Parent Teacher’s Association fees and school upkeep fees which are too high for some of the families.

But community schools do not charge learners anything, while providing them with free books and other learning materials.

The schools are joint ventures between non-profit-making organisations and communities in the poorest townships through Parent-Community School Committees. The PCSC runs the day-to-day management of the school and works towards financial independence through micro-finance programmes.

The committee is also involved in developmental projects at the schools. Peter Sinyangwe, programme officer, Zambia Open Community School believes community schools can sustain themselves though well-organised PCSCs.

“The micro-finance projects in these schools provide access to finance income-generating activities to fund running costs of the schools. [These projects also contribute to] the paying of community school teachers’ salaries as well as the improvement of the livelihood of families in the community, “Sinyangwe adds.

Micro-finance also provides capital funding to existing businesses in their community that are willing to commit 40 percent of their profits to schools.

“The quality of education in Zambia now depends on the amount of money the family can afford to pay for their children, but what about these families that can not afford?” Ronald Zimba, director, Education Without Boundaries said, “We believe that all children are worthy of a quality education.”

Harriet Sianjibu-Miyato, programme coordinator, Zambia Open Community School, told IPS that they spearhead education of children in vulnerable communities as a vehicle and platform towards eradicating poverty in poor communities.

“If government is committed to educate all children in Zambia, why are community schools being omitted from National Budget funding?” Miyato adds, “Community schools have been omitted from the ministry of education funding for a long time now. Also they (the ministry of education) are not involving us in their planning meetings despite the huge contribution we are offering to the sector.”

The ministry of education recognises the existence of community schools as legitimate places of learning, though there is little or no tangible support. It says it is examining the complementary role these innovative and self-reliant institutions can play in the education of Zambia’s children.

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