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Harmonizing Aid to Improve Literacy Outcomes: Making an impact in Zambian schools

Mon, March 9, 3:00 to 4:30pm, Washington Hilton, Concourse Level, Jefferson East

Session Submission Type: Group Panel

Description of Session

As demand for educational resources shifts towards quality in learning, country-wide donor collaboration is required and demanded to ensure the system can absorb and sustain the interventions for an entire generation of students. In 2014, Zambia’s education sector reached a historic milestone in its search to align all donors in support of quality education focusing on impact in learning especially reading. The Ministry of Education of Zambia committed to developing 1 million new readers by the end of school year 2016. For this purpose, it has engaged USAID and other cooperating partners to position schools and its communities to engage implementing partners, traditional leaders, civil society and local service providers to improve the harmonization of activities with local priorities in an unprecedented effort to push literacy and math scores up from first through twelfth grade.

Although Zambia has greatly expanded access to education over the past decade, students' test scores from across the country show a need to improve the quality of education. Literacy scores are especially low, with the 2008 National Assessment showing an average performance of 35.3 percent in reading in English and 39.4 percent in Zambian languages. The challenge of raising literacy is critical as demand for an educated workforce and entrepreneurs become critical for a land-locked nation in need of diversification of its economy. As international investment continues to grow mostly in the extractive and agriculture sectors, the financial futures of children and youth in Zambia depend largely how well prepared and literate they are in order to gain employment or create new economic opportunities.

The panel will present contrasting perspectives on progress and challenges of Zambia’s education donor groups towards improving learning in schools focusing on reading and comprehension in primary schools. With the introduction of a new curriculum with assessment as a key component, the Ministry of Education is working with cooperating partners in the staggered roll out of modernized learning methods from first through twelfth grades. Early grades are using improved teaching and learning methods focusing instruction in the child’s mother tongue from 1st to 4th grades and English as a second language. As 2014 comes to a close, early test results for Grade 5, 7, 9 may provide early indications of the impact in literacy rates across the system. From a literacy perspective, the unique synergy created among partners in Zambia has allowed schools to reach a common understanding of literacy and how to assess it based on standardized tools to measure student performance on a monthly basis throughout the three terms of the school year. During this panel, each presenter will provide a complementary narrative of events and findings based on their current experience in Zambian schools, ranging from the provision of school materials and teaching methods up to support for national policies on issues such as the use of local language of instruction. The sessions will interactively present a top-down view of the situation describing how local systems work in support of national education policies, as well as a bottom-up approach of linking with practical issues of local instruction in familiar language and its implication for national policies and systems. In conclusion, the panel session will attempt to provide a cross-cutting view of a country’s efforts and challenges to coordinate efforts across the sector focused on learning outcomes as measured through its reading and math results as a way to reach Zambia’s goal of 1 million new readers.

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