2004 ZAM: Evaluation of the SPARK Curriculum in Community Schools in Zambia, 2000–2004
Author: Chondoka, Y. A.; Subulwa, C
Since the formation of the Zambia Community Schools Secretariat (ZCSS) in 1996 to monitor and co-ordinate the activities of community schools in the country, a series of studies have been undertaken on a number of issues relating to the operations and functions of community schools. However, to-date, there has been no comprehensive evaluation of community school curriculum.
The purpose of this particular study was to assess the suitability, relevance, effectiveness and impact of the SPARK curriculum in community schools in Zambia from 2000 to 2004.
The study utilised both qualitative and quantitative research methodologies. For qualitative methodologies, views were obtained from the participants, namely, teachers, current and former pupils; parents in the Parent Community School Committees (PCSCs); representatives of local and international Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) and co-operating partners. Quantitative research methodology was employed specifically to obtain statistical data.
Vast amounts of primary data were collected by interviewing participants either in Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) or individually. Male and female teachers were interviewed together and, male and female pupils were also interviewed in-groups. Parents in the PCSC were also interviewed together in a mixed-gender group. Interviews with co-operating partners in Lusaka, who directly or indirectly support SPARK community schools, were very enriching indeed.
Substantial primary data were also collected using questionnaires developed by the consultants and checked by UNICEF, the sponsors and the Zambia Community Schools Secretariat (ZCSS), representing the Ministry of Education (MOE). Each category of respondents had its own questionnaire. For details on categories of the Study Instruments and various target groups, see Appendix C. Considerable secondary data were also collected from documents obtained from Zambia Community Schools Secretariat (ZCSS) office, Zambia Open Community Schools (ZOCS) office, and UNICEF library.
Findings and Conclusions:
- As the SPARK curriculum stands today, it is only partially relevant and it is not suitable for the learning needs of the pupils in the community schools in the country. There are many reasons for this. First, the SPARK curriculum depends on only one document, the SPARK manual for delivery of lessons by teachers. In itself, the manual is not adequate. Second, the curriculum was suitable for the original target group of children above 9 years. In the initial stages, the SPARK curriculum was relevant and suitable for the dominant older children for whom the curriculum was originally meant. However, from 2000, the population of older children dwindled and more younger children entered community schools, rendering the curriculum ineffective, not suitable and not relevant to the needs of the new-look community schools children. Thirdly, the non-availability of the SPARK manual in some community schools forced the teachers to follow the ZBEC curriculum. Only 10% of the community schools are meant to be 'SPARK curriculum community schools', following the SPARK curriculum. The rest (90% of the community schools) are using the Zambia Basic Education (ZBEC) curriculum.
- Parent Community School Committees (PCSCs), teachers and pupils in community schools would like the SPARK curriculum and SPARK manual revised and extended from the current Levels 1 to 4 (Grades 1 to 7) to Grades 8 and 9. This means that they would like community schools to offer education up to the Upper Basic School level.
- On its own, the current SPARK curriculum is not effective in adequately providing the present learning needs of the learners in the SPARK community schools. The ineffectiveness lies in the inadequate content in the syllabus (SPARK manual) as compared to the ZBEC, yet the same community school children are also expected to sit the same Grade 7 examination as those taught on the ZBEC curriculum. Also, 24 out of 33 of the teachers in this survey, the users of the SPARK curriculum are not qualified to handle the SPARK manual because they have not been inducted or trained in its use.
- The impact of SPARK curriculum has not been positive in the 10% community schools using the SPARK curriculum. This is because teachers, especially the untrained ones, do not find it user-friendly. The English language used in the SPARK manual is technical and at a higher level than the level of education for the teachers. This makes the manual not easy to be understood by many untrained community schoolteachers. Also, many community schoolteachers are not inducted in the use of the SPARK manual.
- The cost for implementing the full SPARK curriculum community school varies between urban and rural areas. The average cost for the urban school is about K110,000 per learner per annum while that for the rural school is about K90,000 per pupil per year.
- There is no Primary Reading Programme (PRP) in community schools.
- There is an excellent relationship between SPARK curriculum and the Interactive Radio Instruction (IRI) in community schools visited in the study areas. It is also true for the community schools in Lusaka and Mumbwa districts as disclosed by the EBS officials. The teachers in the IRI - SPARK community schools that the research team visited use IRI in addition to the SPARK manual. In terms of teaching methodology, the IRI reinforces the materials in the SPARK manual. The strong educational bond between the two has benefited many community schoolteachers, who have been trained by EBS in the use of the IRI teaching methodologies.
- ZCSS teacher training programmes for its teachers between 2000 and 2004 have had little impact in the community schools. Only 9 out of 33 of the teachers are trained in studied areas. They have never been inducted in the use of the SPARK curriculum.
- As of now, much data on community schools are neither systematically stored nor sufficiently detailed. There are gaps in the data on community schools at ZCSS. There are no data pertaining to the number of Skills Classes, accurate number of registered community schools, data on all pupils, by gender, who qualify to enter Grade 8 annually, or data on the general post-Level 4 activities that pupils from SPARK community schools are engaged in.
- Pupils in community schools who qualify to enter Grades 8 and 10 experience difficulties to acquire money for school requirements.
- The present SPARK curriculum and SPARK manual should be phased out. The 'phasing out' period should be one year beginning 2005. Other than literacy, numeracy and oracy mainly in local languages, most objectives of the SPARK curriculum in the SPARK curriculum community schools have not been achieved as explained in the Introduction of this report. For example, originally, the SPARK curriculum schools were not meant to enrol children under 9 years and the children were not meant to write Grade 7 examinations after Level 4, but to enter the Skills Class. However, from the fieldwork undertaken in the study area and the accompanying statistical data in Table 4 in Chapter Four and Table 5 in Chapter Five, it is clear that children under 9 years of age are being enrolled, and those in Level 4 write Grade 7 examinations. There are no Skills Classes for Level 4 graduates. All these confirm that most of the objectives, original policy and original philosophy have not been fulfilled in the SPARK curriculum community schools.
- The existing bursary scheme in the Ministry of Education should be extended to the community school pupils who qualify to enter Grades 8 and 10. The children are from disadvantaged economic backgrounds and will not be able to raise the fees and other requisites for the government Upper Basic school that they originally avoided in the Lower and Middle Basic school.
- In view of the first recommendation above, it is therefore not necessary to prepare a revised SPARK curriculum incorporating some of the content in the Upper Basic school syllabus as demanded by the Parent Community School Committees, community schoolteachers and community school pupils. The ZBEC curriculum should be adopted by the 10% community schools currently using the SPARK curriculum.
- Since practical skills are crucial for the future of children in the community schools, we strongly recommend that, unlike the current situation where the research team did not find a community school in the study area with Skills Classes, Skills Classes should be established for graduates of Level 4 and Grade 9 and this should be optional for the pupils. The Skills Classes should be situated in carefully-selected Provincial Zonal Centres and should be equipped with the necessary tools and qualified Industrial Arts teachers, Agricultural science teachers and Home Economics teachers. Alternatively, arrangements should be made with St. Paul’s Skills Training College in Mazabuka to admit more students from community schools all over the country. This will require financial and technical assistance to expand the College.
- ZCSS, in collaboration with EBS, should organise Training Workshops for Lecturers in the government Teacher Training Colleges on the teaching methodologies specific to all community schools and the use of the Mentor's Guide (manual) and the operations of the IRI Learning at Taonga Market Educational Radio Programme. The supplementary community school teaching methodologies should be mandatory for trainee teachers from community schools.
- ZCSS should institute short researches/consultancies to gather essential data on various aspects of community schools that are currently not available at the Secretariat, as stated in Finding number 9 in the Key Findings. Also, data from registration of community schools need to be improved.
- All community schoolteachers should be trained in the Primary Reading Programme (PRP) teaching methodologies.
Full report in PDF
PDF files require Acrobat Reader.