Community Schools: Hope for Poor Urban Children

Zambia’s significant progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on education not have been a possibility without community schools. Here is an article I wrote three years ago on Community Schools debate. This article appeared in online ZIPPA Magazine. I share this with you in light of government declaration a few months ago that they will take over all community schools. And since most of these schools are in poor communities and are run in
 church infrastructures it is important churches engage the government on this issue. I pray you will play role as watchmen and women over Community schools that serve thousands of orphans who otherwise would not be in school Isaiah 62:6).

Community Schools: Hope for Poor Urban Children:  Lawrence Temfwe

In Zambia today many children in low-income communities have no access to conventional schooling. In some urban districts up to a third of the children in primary schools attend what are known as community schools. These schools are operated by unpaid and untrained volunteers who teach in community buildings which are of very inadequate standards. In recent years, “the number of community schools has grown exponentially from 883 in 2000 to 2,129 in 2005.” More recent figures are not available, but the number has only continued to grow. In 2007 the Ministry of Education issued The Operational Guidelines for Community Schools, which promised to provide, among other things,“equitable financial and material resources to all community schools.” But this undertaking has not been met, and, most disappointingly, the Education Act remains silent on community schools.

Community schools play a vital role in most urban districts. In Ndola they educate 33,964 children, which is 29% of primary school enrollees. Though most of these community schools have registered with the District Education Office, resources and support are still not provided. The two most pressing needs are teacher training and equitable funding. If only the Ministry of Education will attend to these, the quality of education provided by community schools can be
greatly improved First, teacher training. The main reason for the success of community school teachers, despite difficult situations, is their impressive commitment to the education of the children in their community. Because of this, the Ministry of Education does not need to bring in trained teachers from outside the community, but instead to provide training for the existing teachers. Such training could be a short but intensive course covering basic pedagogy. A four month course, combined with continuous assessment, would impart the basic skills needed to provide a quality education. Hitherto there have been few courses of this nature. But presently the Jubilee Centre, a Christian NGO in Ndola, is running a pilot training course for twelve teachers in three church run community schools in the community of Mapalo. These schools serve 632 children with an average class size of 40 students. Before the course, their teachers were largely untrained.
During this course, all teachers have demonstrated improvement in the skills taught, i.e., setting goals, thinking critically, planning purposefully, investing in children, increasing effectiveness, and employing best practices in the classroom. The Ministry of Education should now provide serious training to complement the remarkable commitment shown by community school teachers.

Second, equitable funding. The Ministry of Education must put in place a clear and transparent grant process for the distribution of community school funds. There have been countless stories about the misallocation or disappearance of these resources. There have even been stories of them being given to schools which do not exist. The Ministry must provide guidelines to make sure that funds are distributed in an equitable manner. The guidelines must include a rating rubric that explains how the funds are distributed. Only when a clear and transparent grant system is operational, will it be practicable for the community schools as a whole to ask for additional funding. Once these challenges have been effectively tackled , it will be appropriate to turn to the question, ‘Should Zambia’s community schools become either private schools or government schools, or should they remain as an independent category?’ We believe they should be given a choice. If community schools meet the requirements and want to become government schools, let them be absorbed into the system. If they want to continue to operate as community schools with support from the government, they should have that option. However, in order for community schools to receive government support, they should have to enrol a minimum of 70% of their students from low-income families. This stipulation will provide a clear distinction between private schools and community schools. There has to be an educational hope for the poor. But it may not lie in government schools. It may just lie with community schools, provided they receive sufficient support from the government to make this hope possible.