VVOB co-authored an article for the 'Education Diplomacy' special of the international journal Childhood Education. Drawing on VVOB's and partners' experiences from community schools in Zambia, the article explains how we use education diplomacy to bring communities and governments together to improve vulnerable children's learning outcomes.
You can read and download the full article below.
- Anna C. Murru (VVOB - education for development)
- Harriet Miyato (Executive Director, Zambia Open Community Schools - ZOCS)
- Tom E. Vandenbosch 'VVOB - education for development)
Communities and governments can learn from each other to provide access to education and meet the learning needs of their most vulnerable children. Education diplomacy can be used to prioritize education challenges, build mutual understanding, and shape consensus toward solutions that are supported by empowered parents/guardians, teachers, school leaders, civil society, and local and central governments committed to inclusive learning for all children. A case study from Zambia shows how this can be done in practice.
In the early 1990s, many communities throughout Zambia became concerned about the large number of children not attending school due to the lack of accessible public schools and the high school fees that families could not afford. Responding to the need for an alternative, communities began establishing their own schools. These Community Schools played an important role in providing access to education for some of the country’s most vulnerable children who were not in school—including girls and orphans.
These Community Schools were staffed by local volunteers, most of whom were not trained teachers. As the popularity of the schools grew, support from local and international non-governmental organizations increased as well. In 1998, the Zambian government acknowledged Community Schools as entities contributing to education and these have since then grown into a national movement with about 3,000 Community Schools now providing basic education to 565,000 children.
In 2002, the government of Zambia implemented new policies that provided free basic education for all children in hopes of increasing enrollment in the public schools. Many experts believed that these new policies would draw students away from the Community Schools and into the public schools. However, the opposite happened—public school students began enrolling in Community Schools. While surprising to many, this outcome is understandable considering some key factors that the government schools failed to address in the new policies. While primary education is nominally free, certain expenses remain out of reach for many families, such as fees to the Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) and uniform and textbook fees. In addition, students in Community Schools do not have to travel the distances often necessary to attend public schools, they serve students who are over-age for their grade, and they provide the additional care needed for vulnerable children.
The Community Schools were eventually recognized by the Zambian government. While this was an important move, bringing them under the Ministry of General Education and ensuring improved government funding and support, implementation had been slow. Beginning in 2013, two organizations—the local non-profit Zambia Open Community Schools (ZOCS) and the international education development non-profit VVOB—began working with the government to understand the diplomatic challenges affecting Community Schools to be addressed in order to bring all the stakeholders together to find a solution.