Dedama Community School is located in Lusaka, Zambia. The school serves some 275 children in grades 1 to 7 through the work of five dedicated volunteer teachers. These teachers come from the community and, although lacking formal training as teachers, they are serving an important role: that of educating their community’s children.
“These teachers are torches in their communities; they are leaders by example,” explains Damien Haamoonga, Teacher Training Specialist at Zambia Open Community Schools (ZOCS). While teachers did not receive formal education, they benefitted from training provided by ZOCS to equip them with the necessary skills and knowledge to perform their role.
Wearing their neat green uniform, the children were mostly out on their morning break when members of the Australia Awards team arrived for a visit to the school on 30 October 2013. Guests were greeted with sheer enthusiasm. Dedama School is a large structure, capable of accommodating the large number of children it serves, although if faces challenges, including a lack of electricity and running water.
The school’s first classroom was erected in 2005. With funds from the local and international community, the school has grown to include five classrooms, a kitchen, a meeting and dining room and a toilet block.
Government schools are not available to cover all the children in Zambia. Community schools scattered across the country fill the gap. The country started with one school serving 48 girls in 1992, Today it is educating 600,000 orphans and vulnerable children – many affected by HIV/AIDS – through over 3,000 community schools countrywide. Enrolment in community schools represents 20% of all children enrolled in primary schools in Zambia. There are still about 400,000 children out of school.
The community school effort in Zambia owes much of its success to Australia Awards Alumna Harriet Miyato, one of the first women in Zambia to benefit from an Australian Government-funded Masters Scholarship.
Harriet obtained a Masters of Education from Deakin University in 1995 and has since worked in senior positions in the Zambian Ministry of Education and in the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). As current Executive Director of ZOCS, a local non-governmental organisation (NGO), she has been instrumental in propagating community schools in Zambia.
“Since my return to Zambia in 1995, I was seconded by the Ministry of Education to UNICEF – Zambia, under the Education Section. As a National Education Program Officer within UNICEF, my role was to propagate a community schools strategy for Zambia, which was aimed at providing a supplementary and complementary education program with community participation, which would take care of vulnerable children affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic and poverty,” says Harriet.
Through ZOCS, Harriet has also been able to influence legal and policy reforms in relation to community schools in Zambia, one of which was the Education Act 2011 that recognises these schools as legal entities.
Harriet is not short of words when thanking the Australian Government for the opportunity offered to her to obtain her higher education degree, which equipped her with the skills and knowledge to further contribute to positive change on her return.
Over the years, community schools have expanded in numbers and in reach. ZOCS is currently benefitting from funding support from about 12 different donors, but the need is enormous and locating new funding is a constant effort.
To learn more about community schools and/or to support this effort, visit www.zocs.org.zm