June 20, 2001
Schools in Zambia are comprised of three different types. There are the government schools where students have to pay fees and purchase uniforms, private schools that can only be afforded by the wealthy and then there are the community schools. Of the 700 community schools in Zambia, the Zambia Open Community Schools (ZOCS) are probably the best known. The schools are geared towards girls and orphans as this is the most forgotten segment of the educational system. In poor families where only one child can go to school, it is usually the oldest boy who is given an education.
This project was started in 1992 and currently is comprised of 17 schools, 108 teachers and 4,500 students. There are also five affiliate schools that get advice and help from the ZOCS administration. They are supported by grants from international agencies such as the Global Fund for Women and NORAD (Norwegian Development Agency). This money goes to pay salaries, buy supplies and materials to build schools. The labor to build the schools is supplied by the parents of the students. This gives them a sense of ownership and pride in themselves, their community and their school.
When we visited with them today, we were treated to a tour of two different schools (See Photos). At the first, the Kalingalinga Open Community School we visited two grade levels and the library. At the second, the Chilenje School, we visited four different grade levels. The students in each class rose and verbally welcomed us. We were escorted by Justin, the educational administrator for ZOCS. In each classroom he asked the students if they were proud enough of their work to allow us to view it and in each the students gave a resounding yes! We were allowed to interact with the students and they were very excited to show us their workbooks.
At Kalingalinga School, the students were very well supplied. Their rooms had desks and they had different workbooks for each subject. This school had been built with parent labor and was lovingly constructed. The library was also well supplied and the school has just formed an agreement for the American Council Library in Lusaka to provide librarian training four hours per month.
At the Chilenje School, the classrooms were open sided and held in space supplied by a local church. In the empty lot next to the church a new school was being built, also with parent labor.
ZOCS classes are set up so that there are four different grades from ages 9-13. There are two sessions per day, each lasting four hours with a 20 minute break. Depending on the number of students in each school, there may be several different classes for each grade to try to accommodate as many students as possible. The largest schools have 16-17 classes. Each teacher teaches several different subjects and there are volunteers who help out. In addition there are parent volunteers who commit to three years of service to their school.