I'd describe this blog as a place for the purposeful ramblings of Ruth and others. You get to read my thoughts. Will you please share yours, too?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Siavonga Basic School

Siavonga Basic School
Originally uploaded by (t)ruth.
Today during our visit of the Siavonga Basic School, which enrolls students from grades 1-9, I learned a great deal about the educational system in Zambia. It was an invaluable visit.

Let me tell you a little about the structure of the school. Each grade, 1-9, has four sections for each: a, b, c, d. These sections take turns using the facilities during the day, which means, in order to serve all 1,538 students, they have to go to school in shifts. Each child is in school for only four hours a day. There are 32 teachers, including the Vice Principal and the School Manager. In all grades, the following subjects are compulsory: English, Math, Science, Geography, History, and Religious Education (how's that for a change in our whole "separation of church and state" philosophy?). In grades 8 and 9 subjects like Office Practice, Civics, Home Economics, and Technical Drawing are optional. The students all wear uniforms, and the cost of these is sometimes what keeps students from attending school.

I asked the Vice Principal how students are evaluated and how it is determined that they are able to move to the next grade. She told me that first grade is taught using the "Break Through" model. They are taught reading, writing, and grammar in the local language, Tonga. Once they are able to handle these concepts capably in the local language, it is considered that they have "broken through." This is the criteria for moving on to second grade, where they will begin to learn English. They must have a clear understanding of the local language first. In second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grades, every student is moved to the next grade. Whether they have an understanding of the subject matter or not is of no consequence. Everyone moves. At the end of 7th grade, every student takes an examination to enter 8th grade. They cannot enter 8th until they pass the exam. All 8th graders move up to 9th grade. At the end of 9th grade there is an examination to enter secondary school. Grades 10-12 are held at a different school. Everyone moves together from 10th to 11th, and from 11th to 12th. In order to graduate secondary school, each student must pass their final examination at the end of grade 12. Remember, though, school is only taught for four hours a day! It was reported to us that even students who graduate from secondary school only have the equivalent of a tenth grade education in the United States.

In many classrooms, the teachers may have only one textbook and one student workbook. Obviously, this means that the students are not getting the level of practice that they need to master skills, nor do they have the opportunity to study additionally at home, since they don't have the resources to take with them. It was hard to see the lack of materials, but it was encouraging to witness teachers who are committed to doing the best with what they have. They care about the future of their country and they are doing everything they can to equip the next generation. I admire them very much. You know, I think I could potentially see myself teaching there.


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