Getting children back to school after COVID-19 closures in Zambia

In Zambia, a GPE-supported program is helping children from some of the most marginalized provinces in the country to go back to school after COVID-19-related closures.

February 17, 2022 by Vasiti Lungu, UNICEF Zambia
2 minutes read
Twelve-year-old Josphat Chiluba, a grade 3 pupil at Kamangu Community School, is a beneficiary. Credit: Vasiti Lungu
Twelve-year-old Josphat Chiluba, a grade 3 pupil at Kamangu Community School, is a beneficiary.
Credit: Vasiti Lungu

There can be many barriers to children staying in school and returning following COVID-19–related closures. And sometimes it can be as simple as not having a school bag.

Twelve-year-old Josphat Chiluba, a grade 3 learner in Zambia’s Shiwangandu District who loves studying math and English, is glad to now have a backpack for his school material.

“I used to put all my books and pencils in a plastic bag, and most of the time I would lose my pencils because when the plastic bag would develop holes in it, the pencils would drop,” he says. “I would then have to ask my friends for a pencil and or my mother would have to buy me new pencils every other time. I am happy with my bag because I can secure my books and my pencils without having to worry about them getting lost as I walk to and from school.”

Of course, it takes more than a school bag to help children stay in school. Under the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) funding to Zambia, coordinated through UNICEF, more than 117,920 bags have been distributed to children along with 134,000 school kits, targeting some of the most marginalized provinces in the country.

In addition, school desks and school grants are helping schools open with better capacity to distance pupils and provide handwashing facilities.

Josphat’s principal at Kamangu Community School, Ms. Charity Mulongesa, said that the new bags from the ministry, supported by GPE through UNICEF, are proving a strong motivation, boosting attendance and even participation in after-school classes.

The bags were given to the most vulnerable in the community and these families were identified through the village secretary and local church committees.

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Sub-Saharan Africa: Zambia

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The school bags and kits in Zambia are important and do help leaners keep their school materials safe but also in proper conditions for use. It is common to have books and notebooks wet and unusable during the rainy season as many learners walk to and from public schools in Zambia. Paper is also lost or spoiled when it flies off during the winter windy months; and just holding on to all the school materials in a learner's hand for the distance s/he has to walk is difficult. So yes, every little bit helps in many ways. A problem we experienced in Liberia was that the school bags were being sold or just taken over by family members for whom they were not intended; the grade one leaners for whom they were intended were too young to fight to keep their bags.

I notice the learner is 12 years but in grade 3 in a country where the entry age is 7. This is not an easy problem to solve and has many implications for completing school. While entry ages are set by governments, it is rare they take into account the distances learners have to walk daily to and from school. Starting school at 6 years for example, excludes many rural children and poor learners in urban areas. No young child can walk the distances implied in the entry ages. It is also not safe from child abusers/traffickers and traffic. Parents cannot accompany the learners (twice a day even if they knew what time to so) as they have their own work to do (farming, fishing, trading). The problem is worse for girls as they become more useful at home and are married off while in primary school. Boys too, start finding work to support the household and miss regular school attendance leading to repetition and growing older. Schooling is a complex engagement.

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