UNICEF Regional Ambassador for Eastern and Southern Africa (https://www.UNICEF.org/), Tendai “The Beast” Mtawarira has just returned from Zambia, where he highlighted education and protection issues experienced by children and adolescents. He interacted with children who attended classes under trees, due to chronic school overcrowding.
The Rugby legend and World Cup winner visited schools in Chipata and Katete in Zambia’s Eastern Province. He joined their literacy lessons, writing words with chalk on the concrete floor, in the absence of blackboards. Mtawarira commended the children for keeping up their school attendance, despite the vast challenges they face.
In Zambia, 60 per cent of learners are performing below their grade in literacy and numeracy, according to the SACMEQ (Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality) national assessment. This is reflective of the deep learning crisis taking place across the wider region, with nine out of 10 ten-year-old children unable to read a simple text with understanding or solve simple arithmetic problems. This high level of learning poverty is coupled with large gender, geographical and wealth quintile disparities, for instance, children acquiring foundational learning varies from 4% in Burundi to 52% Botswana.
“Children have a right to a quality education. I believe education is the great equaliser. Despite the challenges the children are facing, they remain motivated to show up every day. That was incredibly inspiring for me,” said Mtawarira.
The children shared their dreams with the retired rugby player.
“My favourite subject is literacy. I want to become a teacher when I complete my education because I am inspired by how my teachers are committed to ensuring that we understand the lessons,” 13-year-old Semmy Phiri said.
“In our dream school, we would have a science lab, a library and a school bus to take us to far-away places. We also need toilets that flush,” 14-year-old Susan Mpelembe told Mtawarira.
Countries in Africa have made considerable progress in boosting primary and lower secondary enrolment in the last two decades. But while countries have significantly increased access to education, millions of children are not developing the basic foundational literacy and numeracy skills they need to move on to higher levels of education.
At Dumisa Community Primary School in rural Chipata, the teacher-pupil ratio is 1-80. There are just two classrooms for 480 students, and many classes are held outdoors, under the harsh sun. Most of the children walk over 8 kilometres along a dusty road to attend classes.
“Classrooms are full of pupils. This is partially a result of Zambia’s laudable Education for all Policy, which eliminated school fees. While it’s good in theory, we are seeing that the teacher-pupil ratio is very high. The teachers have very few educational aids, and in many cases, they are poorly equipped and lack mentoring. There are positive trends, like the Teaching at the Right Level programme that lays important foundational skills in literacy and numeracy for children in Chipata and other provinces throughout Zambia,” said Mtawarira.
The Teaching at the Right Level programme is an accelerated learning method for foundational literacy and numeracy skills. It was piloted by the Government of the Republic of Zambia with support from UNICEF and other partners in 80 schools in Zambia in 2016 and now this TaRL approach is being demonstrated over 5000 schools. The evidence shows remarkable improvement in acquiring foundational learning when the instruction is targeted to children’s learning level and pace of learning
These learning challenges are in no way unique to Zambia, with the continent’s future at severe risk unless we see a significant change in countries’ approach to learning, and funding of the education sector.
“Governments and partners across the continent must prioritise and invest in a number of solutions to secure our children’s futures. We need to get – and keep – every child in the classroom, measure their learning, help them catch up and support teachers with training, materials and supervision – and make sure that there are adequate numbers of teachers with the minimum required qualifications to meet learners’ needs, especially in the most remote areas,” said Mtawarira.
The UNICEF Regional Ambassador also visited a mentoring programme in Zambia, called Coaching Boys into Men. This initiative uses sports to shift attitudes and behaviors of boys towards greater gender equality and, ultimately, contribute to ending child marriage. The approach combines sport and dialogue to create a safe space for the boys to discuss these important topics and change perceptions and practices that negatively impact women and girls. The boys are drawn from the target communities and schools. Some of the boys who had dropped out of school are being reintegrated back into school following their involvement in the Coaching Boys into Men programme.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Notes to Editors:
The phenomenal growth in school enrolment in Zambia was a result of various elements, including the implementation of policy initiatives to counteract factors limiting participation, particularly among poverty-stricken groups; increased budgetary allocations to the education sector; construction of more schools, intentional advocacy work that targeted the girl child, communities taking action given the magnitude of the challenges the government faced in providing education services; and concerted action from the international community. (Education for All 2015 National Review, Zambia.)
The Teaching at the Right Level prorgramme works by dividing children in Grades 3, 4 and 5 into groups based on learning levels rather than age or grade, dedicating time to basic skills rather than focusing solely on the curriculum, and regularly assessing each learner’s performance, rather than relying only on end-of-year examinations, allowing the teacher to closely monitor the progress of each child.
The TaRL programme has significantly improved the learning outcomes of children in Zambia.
By the end of 2021, the proportion of:
- Children able to read a paragraph increased by 19 percentage points
- Children able to do subtraction improved by 20 percentage points
The program is now at scale, having first been implemented in two provinces, and can now be found in nine out of the ten provinces in Zambia, and in more than 4,800 primary schools. The program is currently reaching 739,801 learners countrywide.
For more information, please contact:
UNICEF East and Southern Africa Regional Office,
+254 724 322162
UNICEF Africa Services Unit,
+27 72 777 9399
UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.
For more information about UNICEF and its work, visit: www.UNICEF.org