On 27 January, EU Ambassador to Zambia Alessandro Mariani (picture: right) joined preschool children at their desks in two community schools in Ndola district, Zambia. The community schools are part of VVOB's wider QEECS project, which strengthens education in community schools with EU co-funding.
Keeping Zambia’s youngest on board
The QEECS project (‘Quality Early Education in Community Schools’), co-financed by the European Union (EU), is implemented by VVOB Zambia with Zambia Open Community Schools (ZOCS) and the Ministry of General Education (MoGE). Through the project, the professional development of early education teachers in Kitwe and Ndola districts is strengthened to offer quality teaching in the early years.
Eighteen community schools are supported intensively to give marginalised young children a fair start. Next to the professional development of teachers, these schools have been supported to realise infrastructural projects, including building of classrooms and water and sanitation facilities. Locally made learning materials that encourage learning through play enrich the learning environments. Linkages between the schools and local authorities such as health service providers, and area counsellors are strengthened.
EU Ambassador to Zambia Mr Alessandro Mariani visited two community schools in the Ndola district on a field visit end January. Twalubuka and Kaloko Kantanshi community schools opened their doors for the European delegation, who met with teachers, school leaders, a representative of the parents’ association, and, most importantly, with the young learners. “After the visit, I wrote to my team on impulse: ‘Can’t we have thousands of these schools in Zambia?’”, Mr Mariani told VVOB colleagues later.
“As studies have shown, early childhood education is an important period of growth for children,” Mr Mariani begins. “But during my visit to the community schools, I realised that the project goes farther. Parents are involved in the physical building of the infrastructure, and in raising funds for both the children and the salary of teachers.” Community involvement is indeed a big part of QEECS.
There is also an important gender aspect to the project, Mr Mariani found: “Mothers find it convenient and useful to be able to drop their kids off at school and go to work, so they can also raise money for their family. There is a component of female empowerment as women are able to engage in socioeconomic activities.”
Community schools do not charge school fees, and teachers receive little or no salary. “But they are very motivated. I was particularly impressed by Joyce, the early childhood teacher in Twalubuka Community School. Even though she had visitors in her classroom, she remained focused, composed, and attentive of the kids. She was not distracted by us at all; she certainly got her priorities straight!”
“I was also impressed by the head teacher of Kaloko Kantanshi Community School. David Sitali had a contagious positivity about him. He was very enthusiastic and took it upon himself to take me on a tour of the school. He was proud of the high literacy levels in his school, and gave me the opportunity to test this myself. In one classroom, I asked the children to guess where I was from, and wrote ‘Europe’ on the board. About 70 per cent of the kids raised their hand to read the word out loud. I then started writing the word ‘Zambia’ and by the second letter they were all excitedly reading it out loud.”
Simple and well organised
In Mr Mariani’s own words: the visit to the two QEECS schools left a lasting impression on his mind for a number of reasons: “the involvement of parents and communities in general; the well-arranged classrooms, simple but clean and well organised; the first-class effective learning materials, all made locally. All this contributes to the sustainability of the project.”
“Early childhood education is extremely important for the harmonious development of children, who are the generation of Zambia’s future”, Mr Mariani underscores. “I am delighted about the work of VVOB Zambia and ZOCS, the parent-teacher associations, and the two community schools. The EU contributes to 18 schools in the Copperbelt Province, and this should be seen as a pilot project to inspire similar investments in many more schools around the country. Investments from the Zambian government, the communities, civil society organisations, and development partners.”