“These teachers are torches in their communities; they are leaders by example,” explains Damien Haamoonga, Teacher Training Specialist at Zambia Open Community Schools (ZOCS). While teachers did not receive formal education, they benefit from training provided by ZOCS to equip them with the necessary skills and knowledge to perform their role.
Wearing their nice-looking green uniform, the children were mostly out in their morning break when members of the Australia Awards team arrived for a visit to the school on 30 October 2013. Guests were greeted with cheer enthusiasm. Dedama School is a large structure capable of accommodating the large number of children it serves, though if faces challenges, including lack of electrical power and running water.
The first classroom of the school was erected in 2005 and with funds from the local and international community; the school has grown to five classrooms, a kitchen, meeting and dining room and a toilet block.
Government schools are not available to cover all children in Zambia. Community Schools scattered across the country fill the gap. They started with one school serving 48 girls in 1992 to currently educating 600,000 orphans and vulnerable children – many affected by HIV/AIDS – through over 3000 community schools countrywide. Community schools represent 20% of all children enrolled in the primary schools in Zambia. There is still 400,000 children that are out of school.
The community school effort in Zambia owes much of its success to Australia Awards alumna Harriet Miyato, one of the first women in Zambia to benefit from an Australian Government-funded Master-level scholarship.
Harriet obtained a Master of Education from Deakin University in 1995 and has since worked in senior positions in the Zambian Ministry of Education and in UNICEF. As current Executive Director of ZOCS, a local non-governmental organisation, she has been instrumental in propagating community schools in Zambia.
“Since my return to Zambia in 1995, I was seconded by the Ministry of Education to UNICEF – Zambia, under the Education Section. As a National Education Program Officer within UNICEF, my role was to propagate a Community Schools strategy for Zambia, which was aimed at providing a supplementary and complementary Education program with community participation, which would take care of vulnerable children affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic and poverty,” says Harriet.
Through ZOCS, Harriet has also been able to influence legal and policy reforms in relation to Community Schools in Zambia, one of which was the Education Act 2011 that recognises these schools as legal entities.
Harriet is not short of words when thanking the Australian Government for the opportunity offered to her to obtain her higher education degree, which equipped her with skills and knowledge to further contribute to positive change on return.
Over the years, Community Schools have expanded in numbers and in reach. ZOCS is currently benefiting from funding support from about12 different donors, but the need is enormous and locating new funding is a constant effort.