NKOMBO KACHEMBA, Milenge
THE coming of community schools in rural areas is playing a notable role in the provision of primary education services to children who would otherwise not have had the opportunity to acquire literacy skills.
Most rural schools are in far- flung places, making it difficult for children, especially young ones, to walk long distances to access education.
For Zambia to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on education, which mandates developing countries to provide universal quality education to all children by 2030, more primary schools need to be built, especially in rural areas.
Lack of adequate schools in remote areas has resulted in the mushrooming of community schools, which sometimes, do not meet the expected standards of a learning institution, thus compromising the quality of education.
One such remote district, with second-rate community schools, is Milenge district in Luapula Province, which is one of the new districts in Zambia.
The vast district of Milenge only has 28 government-owned primary schools in various chiefdoms. The schools are sparsely located, and so are the villages, making it difficult for young children to walk long distances to school.
This has resulted in a number of young boys and girls, especially, those in grades one and two, dropping out of school because of the long and tedious distances involved.
School children opt to go to community schools, because of their relatively closer proximity to the villages. However, teachers in these schools have no formal professional training and most of them are grade 12 school-leavers.
Unlike government schools which have proper structures, community schools in Milenge are covered with thatched roofs, and in class, pupils sit on clay pan bricks due to lack of desks.
At Lwimbe community school, which is on the Kasanka-Milenge road, teachers lack teaching materials, and they use charcoal to write on the board.
â€œThe challenge that we have in teaching these pupils, is lack of teaching materials. Pupils sit on molded pan bricks, and we have no proper classrooms,â€ narrated Mervis Chileya, a teacher at Lwimbe community school.
Ms Chileya said her school caters for pupils in grades one to four because they usually have difficulties in walking long distances to government schools.
She said the young learners also have difficulties in crossing makeshift bridges across the rivers and streams, therefore would rather attend school in their vicinity.
â€œIt is a challenge for young children to walk long distances to the nearest school to our village. Some children just end up staying at home, doing nothing. This is the reason why we had to establish this community school to keep them busy,â€ Ms Chileya said.
She appealed to well-wishers to help the school build a classroom block so that pupils could have an ideal learning environment.
Lwimbe community school only has one big makeshift classroom, with pan brick partitions so as to accommodate the different classes.
And headman Kabula of Kabula village in Chief Sonkotweâ€™s area, appealed to the government to build more schools in Milenge to give children universal access to quality education.
â€œWe need more schools here in Milenge district for our children to learn in a good environment like their colleagues in other towns. We are also appealing to well-wishers to help our children here in Milenge with learning materials,â€ he said.
And Nelson Kamfya, 14, a grade four pupil at Lwimbe community school, lamented that the environment at his school is not conducive for academic activities.
Nelson appealed to Government and other stakeholders to help the school build decent classrooms; procure desks and teaching materials.
â€œSometimes when the teacher is writing on the board with charcoal, we donâ€™t see properly because the writing is in black, and the board is black,â€ he said.
Another community school, which is about 70km off the
Kasanka-Milenge road, is Katumpu, where pupils are taught by a grade 11 pupil from one of the government schools.
The community school, which is in Kapalala ward, has no infrastructure to talk about, except for wooden pillars supported by a thatched roof.
Greenfall Chanda, a teacher at the school, said the school has 30 pupils who are all in grade two.
â€œDue to lack of space, we can only accommodate 30 pupils who are in grade two. We give priority to the young ones because they cannot manage to walk long distances to access education in government schools,â€ Mr Chanda said.
He also implored stakeholders, especially people who hail from Milenge district, to support children educational materials to enable them complete their education.
Meanwhile, Milenge district education standards officer Grace Mwape said Government is working tirelessly to build more primary schools in the district to ensure that children have access to quality education.
â€œAs a district, we have a few primary schools, and usually when pupils walk long distances, this definitely affects their studies. However, we are working hard to ensure we build more schools for our children,â€ Ms Mwape said.
She said in this quest, Government has upgraded Kwafwanka and Chibende primary schools into secondary schools to create more classroom space at senior level.
Ms Mwape said in addition, Government plans to construct a three-room classroom block and one staff house at every school in the area.
She said plans are also underway to improve the quality of infrastructure at community schools and convert them into government schools.
Ms Mwape said the construction of a two classroom block at Kasangashi community school in an effort to accord pupils a good learning environment, has already started
She, however, bemoaned the high rate of teacher transfers in the district which is adversely affecting the performance of pupils.
Ms Mwape said the other challenge that the education sector in the area faces, is the high dropout rate by young girls who opt for marriage, mainly for reasons bordering on economic security.
She said the office of the district education board secretary is working hard to address some of the problems that pupils face as a way of motivating them to complete their education.
For Zambia to achieve SDG goal number four, more efforts need to be made to make it easier for children in rural areas to have access to quality education services.
Of particular importance is the need to build more primary schools in these communities and equipping them with the necessary amenities that could support academic activities.
NKOMBO KACHEMBA, Milenge