DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka
A CHALKBOARD is seemingly abandoned under a tree, but as one draws closer, it appears to be in use. Next to it are benches which pupils use as desks.
This is a place some pupils call their ‘classroom’ at Lwabwe Primary School, situated on Mpika road in Kasama.
Every week, the fifth and sixth graders at Lwabwe Primary School in Kasama gather under a tree to learn.
This kind of learning environment exposes the children to all kinds of distraction and the fail to concentrate on lessons.
A lack of resources like teaching and learning facilities, such as infrastructure is hampering the quality of education for pupils in this area.
Lwabwe Primary School was established close to two decades ago and because of the increase in population in the area, the classrooms cannot cater for all the grades.
“We have a challenge here, I was transferred to this school seven months ago and I have two classes that learn from under a tree. The grade five and six usually have their classes from outside,” says Gladys Mweemba, acting headteacher at Lwabwe Primary.
Ms Mweemba says learning outdoors is difficult as pupils have to endure sunrays that penetrate through the leaves.
Often times, they have to end classes early during the rainy season and winter time.
The destruction during lessons is unbearable, not only to pupils but teachers too.
The school is closer to Mpika Road and this poses another problem, as pupils are often distracted by motorbikes, vehicles and people passing by.
“It is worse for the pupils that attend afternoon classes. There is so much noise, the pupils cannot concentrate,” Ms Mweemba says.
For Ms Mweemba, education must prepare the children to be productive citizens, lift them out of the vicious cycle of poverty and help them have a better future.
But with poor and inadequate infrastructure to support the vision, it is impossible for children to get quality education that can change their lives forever.
Joseph Kangwa, the class teacher of grade five says some children walk 7-10 km (one way) to attend school.
“Most of the pupils are always absent due to the long distance. The highest absenteeism is recorded during the rainy season, as sometimes, only few pupils attend class.” the Mr Kangwa says, adding that the pupils risk not having a quality early childhood education.
Grace Chileshe, a 13-year-old grade five pupil at Lwabwe Primary School says despite these problems, she gets her drive from the parents.
“Most parents are not educated but they are keen to educate their children so that we can have a better life than them. This has inspired me to keep coming to school despite learning under a tree,” she says.
For those getting into the fifth and sixth grade, it has become a trend, they are physiologically prepared.
“It has become a trend now. When you going in to grade five and six, you even know that you have to say goodbye to the classroom environment and for two years, you will be learning under a tree,” says Grace.
The underlying truth is that the knock on effect of children performing poorly is catastrophic.
James Lombe, a grade six pupil, says children in the surrounding area end up being demotivated to continue with school and others repeat or drop out of school before completing their primary school years.
“We get laughed at for having classes under a tree by our friends in villages. They openly tell us to just stay home rather than learn under a tree,” James says.
Another complaint made by the pupils is that there are not enough books and pencils for their usage.
“We had a consolation because we used to get free exercise books some time back, but from the time that stopped, many pupils have stopped coming for class,” James says.
Despite government’s continued commitment to educating children and reaching out to the most disadvantaged, a lot needs to be done to meet the global goals on quality education.
An official at the Kasama district education office Kelly Njovu says the problem of upgrading rural school facilities to improve teaching and learning hinges on inadequate financing.
Mr Njovu says better school infrastructure plays an important role in many rural communities and is a symbol of pride.
“Closer community relationships, along with a less complicated bureaucracy, can make it easier for a rural district to make decisions and communicate with the community to improve various school infrastructure in these schools. But like the situation is now, the budgeting is not enough to cater for the construction of two classroom blocks at Lwabwe,” Mr Njovu says.
Funding is the main concern in trying to maintain and upgrade school infrastructure because many rural districts do not have the elasticity to decide on their allocated annual budgets.
It is undeniable that adequate school funding to improve infrastructure and other facilities are crucial to learner outcomes.
Encouragingly, public consensus is beginning to recognise that the education system cannot continue to proceed as normal, government should invest the more in school infrastructure. Rural schools need face lift and indeed upgraded infrastructure.
At one end of the scale, it is clear that ‘sitting under a tree’ affects learner outcomes in the education.