January 2014: ZCO supports reading campaign in Zambia
Zambia launches new curriculum and reading campaign
Creating a million new readers by 2016
By Felix Chilufya
LUSAKA, Zambia – UNICEF Zambia has joined hands with other cooperating partners including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (UKAID) and Irish Aid in supporting the Zambian Government’s efforts to improve education standards for children.
Earlier this month the Zambian Government through the Ministry of Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Education launched a new curriculum with an ingenious feature of a two-tier education system at secondary level – academic and vocational, which is unprecedented in the history of Zambia’s education.
Speaking at the launch in Lusaka, education minister Dr John Phiri, MP, explained that the “academic path is meant for learners with a passion for academic subjects and desire for careers while the vocational path was meant for learners with ambitions and interests in technical and hands-on careers.”
Speaking on behalf of cooperating partners, UNICEF Zambia Country Representative Dr. Hamid El-Bashir pledged continued support to the Government’s efforts to improve the quality of education for all Zambian learners.
In a speech read on his behalf by Patrick Slavin, UNICEF Zambia’s Chief, Communications, Dr. El-Bashir commended Government for a well thought-out and progressive curriculum that addresses the pertinent challenges for young people such as quality education, low literacy levels and youth unemployment.
“Young Zambian learners need to be provided with the necessary knowledge and practical skills that will enable them to survive and develop into productive citizens. It is our hope that this curriculum attests to these basic principles,” Dr. El-Bashir said.
The following day on 17 January, education minister Dr. Phiri launched a literacy mobilization campaign dubbed “Let’s Read Zambia!” which is aimed at strengthening learners’ reading levels and ultimately their educational performance.
The new system lays emphasis on the use of local languages that are familiar to learners from early childhood level to Grade 4, before the English language is introduced as a subject.
Against a backdrop of 80 per cent of learners who cannot read in the country, Dr. Phiri attributed the low literacy levels in Zambian public primary schools to the language of classroom instruction and envisioned the solution in scaffolding learning through instruction in local languages like Bemba and Tonga.
According to Dr. Phiri, reading and writing abilities are without doubt the most important tools for surviving and succeeding in the modern world.
“These skills provide us with the ability to gain knowledge of the world, to express ourselves, to share and receive information, to become productive members of society, and to fully participate in the democratic process and national development. Without the ability to read and write, an individual remains backwards in knowledge and values,” he said.
Through the ‘Let’s Read Zambia’ mobilization campaign, the ministry has set a goal to create a million new readers by 2016. Cooperating partners – which include UNICEF, Irish AID, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), UK AID and the USAID – have pledged to support improving the learning experience of all children in Zambia.
Chilufya is Communications for Development consultant with UNICEF Zambia.