Catch up learning programme improving foundational learning in Zambia

#ForEveryChild quality learning

Arisa Oba
‘Talk and chalk’ classes that are commonly seen in Zambia. Some of the children are often left behind without grasping the content of the lessons.
UNICEF/Zambia/2022/Oba
27 June 2022

At Kabanda Primary School, in Zambia’s Kawambwa district in the Luapula province, Mr. Musonda Crevis juggles two roles – Deputy Head teacher and a teacher of Grade 4 learners. Kabanda Primary School is one of many schools in Zambia facing a shortage of teachers.

The average student:teacher ratio in Mr. Musonda’s school is 78:1. Only 5 teachers are allocated to oversee different grades from Early Childhood to grade 9. The school manages the shortage by having two shifts – one morning and one afternoon – with lessons normally beginning at 7:00am and ending at 5:20pm. More than 50 percent of the schools in Luapula province have more than two shifts to cope with the teacher shortages

“The teachers in this school are often in charge of multiple grades and our work schedule is packed,” he says.

In addition to teacher shortages, the quality of education in Zambia has remained a challenge for decades. National assessments show that at Grade 5, more than 60 per cent of learners do not have basic mathematic and literacy skills. This is an indication that more than 95 per cent of the children after completing their education do not have the basic knowledge and skills to progress meaningfully.

Teachers lack practical guidance and often resort to using the traditional ‘talk and chalk’ methods in which many of the children are left behind without full understanding of the content of the subjects. The situation in Luapula province is not an exception.

Despite these challenges, Mr. Musonda remains motivated to introduce new teaching methods he learnt through the Catch-Up programme, a learner-centred approach to teaching. Upon completion of his training in Catch-Up, Mr. Musonda immediately introduced it to his classes.

 “Catch-Up has really inspired me to use new ways to teach my children.”

Mr. Musonda

Catch-Up is a remedial learning programme aimed to support learners that are lagging in their studies to ‘catch up’ with their peers. The classes are organized after school hours and teachers focus on local-language teaching of basic skills in the subjects of language and mathematics through play, games, and active participation. The learners are grouped according to their level of understanding of the content of the subject, rather than by their age group, as is usually the norm. Learners progress through after they have mastered each competency required for the subject. Teachers take the learners step-by-step to ensure that they fully understand the content and use individualized assessments to track progress of their learning. Catch-Up ensures that children are taught in a child-friendly manner and no child is left behind in their studies.

Mr. Musonda poses with his Grade 4 learners. The learners are holding new learning materials shared during the Catch-Up training.
UNICEF/Zambia/2022/Kabanda
Mr. Musonda poses with his Grade 4 learners. The learners are holding new learning materials shared during the Catch-Up training.

At Kabanda Primary school, five teachers were trained under the Catch-Up methodology and one teacher also now qualified to be a mentor teacher - someone who passes on the knowledge and skills to other teachers to replicate at their schools.

Learners in Mr. Musonda’s class, until recently, were struggling to read out numbers during the mathematics class. The Grade 4 learners in his class would, for instance, read 4,010 as ‘forty-ten’, demonstrating a lack of understanding of the construction of numbers.

After he started using the child-centered methodologies that he learnt from the Catch-Up training, he saw instant results. Now his students can read 4-digit numbers correctly.

“The training had given me new ideas and materials to use for my class. I am excited to introduce them to the children.”

Mr. Musonda

Through a school-based information sharing and learning system, the other grade teachers will also be informed of the child-centered methodology, so that even beyond the remedial classes and targeted grades, the methodologies will be utilized and mainstreamed.

Mr. Musonda is now more aware of the different levels of understanding that the learners have on the content of subjects and has started providing step-by-step tasks to the learners through grouping in his regular classes. “I think that the methodologies are practical, and I believe it will improve the literacy and numeracy skills for learners,” he says. “I now focus more on the learners that may be left behind and see if they are acquiring the necessary skills or not."

Mr. Musonda shares his past teaching practices and experiences. “I used to leave some of the learners behind as I was rushing through the lessons,” he says. “I knew that this situation was not good because the learners will be left unattended to and will not learn what they will need in their lives. But I could not find out a way how to deal with this situation with the workload that I had and pressure to cover the lessons on time.”

 In Luapula Province, 23 provincial and district staff have been oriented in the Catch-Up programme, while 773 teachers and 291 mentors have been trained to implement and support the lessons.  All participants receive story cards, teacher guides, monthly learning trackers, money cards and other teaching materials to support their teaching. These materials are provided at a low cost to ensure programme sustainability and continued usage at schools.

Over 44,000 learners from Grades 3 to 5 will directly benefit from this training once the teachers start to implement the Catch-Up lessons in April 2022. The training for the Catch-Up learner-centred methodologies has already been conducted and the lessons implemented in Muchinga, Northern, North-Western, Western, Lusaka, Eastern and Southern provinces and with Luapula province included, it will cover eight out of the ten provinces in Zambia.

“After the training, the teachers were evidently happy with the methodology and were so eager to implement. They went on to say the timing was great as the province experienced bad results in the previous year at Grade 9 and Grade 12 in the national examination results which is graded per province. The teachers were happy with the Catch-Up methodology as it makes understanding of concepts easier and that the learners will be assessed at personal levels, unlike the routine work that doesn’t show the level of understanding per student,” says Mr. Moono Mwiinde, Project Coordinator from Flemish Development Agency (VVOB), implementing partner for the programme.

The Catch-Up programme, ‘Improving the quality of learning in Luapula province’, is a three-year initiative founded by Hempel Foundation. The programme is led by the Ministry of Education of Zambia and supported by UNICEF and the implementing partner VVOB. Through the programme, 80,000 children in the 12 districts in Luapula province will directly benefit from the programme through capacity building of teachers and administrators to conduct learner-centred teaching, strengthening of collaboration between the schools and the community members and revamping the education systems in place at the province.