During a recent visit to Zambia - writes Jody Ehlers Buttenshaw, Freeplay Foundation projects manager - I saw the Lifeline radio hard at work delivering grade school lessons in community schools throughout the Northern and Luapula Provinces.
It was an amazing experience to travel hundreds of miles and find a very similar situation throughout all these remote areas: a thatched roof and a one room house filled with 30 – 50 smiling faces of children singing along to educational songs that help them learn their numbers. In different locations, I watched from the back of each ‘classroom’ as eager little hands raised high in the air to be called to the board.
This is distance education in action; reaching some of the most vulnerable children of Africa who need primary schooling the most yet have the greatest difficulty in accessing it. These children are not able to attend the government schools, whether through being unable to afford school fees or having to walk too many miles to the closest school.
Yet they can meet daily for two hours in informal centers on every weekday to be guided through their grade school radio lessons by dedicated mentors. And thanks to the consistent high quality education they receive through fine radio programming and the care of their mentors, they are able to complete each of their one-year grade levels in just six months.
The children we visited are so evidently eager to learn and enjoy doing so.
(Please visit the Zambia project photo gallery to access recent pictures - photos 5 & 6 - of children at their Grade 1 lessons)
During a surprise visit with the Ministry of Education to a community school in a village located in Samfya, I also got to witness first hand the constant determination of the Ministry of Education to provide an education to all the children in Zambia.
As we entered the village on our way to the school, we walked by an area where four young boys were hard at work making bricks in the summer sun. While they toiled, other children ran about nearby in tattered clothes. Adelaide Phiri, the District Education Standards Officer for the Ministry of Education, accompanied me.
She asked one of the boys why he was not in school. He said: ” I need money for books, so I must work.”
Adelaide questioned him further and learned his name was Tyson Kabinga. Tyson is a double orphan living with his grandparents. His only brother lives eight hours away in Lusaka with his father’s brother. Tyson explained that when he makes 500 bricks he will be paid 12, 500 Kwatcha - about $4.
Adelaide spoke then to the boy about the importance of education for his future. She made an offer to Tyson: if he came to visit her she would provide the books he needed for class in order for him to be able to go back to school. Tyson agreed that he would come to visit Adelaide later in the day to receive his books.
Tyson’s friend, Rodger Kaime, a 16 year old who has six brothers and sisters, overheard the conversation. Interested in what was being offered to Tyson, he too showed immediate enthusiasm for going back to school. When we left we waved goodbye, and Adelaide promised she would go back to see both boys later.
(Please visit the Zambia project photo gallery to see pictures of Adelaide, Tyson and Rodger)
Experiences like this brought home to me again and again during my recent field mission, that there are still so many Zambian children who are desperately in need of an education and yet have great difficulty accessing it.
Thanks to radio distance learning programs like Learning at Taonga Market and to strong partnerships like the one our Freeplay Foundation enjoys in Zambia with EDC and the Ministry of Education, we are already reaching many hundreds of thousands of children.
Among those who provide vital funding for our program, we are deeply grateful for the financial support of Global Giving donors. Your donations are currently providing Freeplay Lifeline radios and distance learning access to some 1,200 children in Zambia.
At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Zambian children remain out of school and expansion of the Learning at Taonga Market program and self-powered Lifeline radio provision is urgently needed, so that Tyson and Rodger and many others like them can also receive a grade school education. My Freeplay Foundation colleagues and I are committed to continue working with donors and radio education partners, until every child in Zambia can have access to basic primary education, and to what should be a fundamental right for children everywhere.