Education, education, education! It is all about education. Let ustalk about it, it is in everything wedo. I believe education is the key to solving both my country’s challenges and many of the issues we face in the world. However, it needs to be accessed first. There is a need for schools, teachers, students who attend school, resources and access to information that everyone can use and share to create a better world for all. Access is the operative word here. We all need to be able to access education. Not one part of the human race, not one part of the world, all of us, if we are to all contribute in any way we can.
In Zambia, primary school education is ‘free’. This means that parents/guardians can take their children to a public/government school and will not be required to pay tuition fees. They only need to buy uniforms, books, school shoes, a school bag and pay a contribution towards the Parent Teachers Association fee. For parents in Zambia, this is still a challenge and as a result, children either do not go to school or drop out during or after primary school. Girls however, are even at a highest risk of dropping out of school.
Growing up in a house full of girls, I took it for granted that it was my right to go to school. I was right; it was and it is my right to have access to an education. I moved around a lot after my parents passing, from living with my grandparents, to my mother’s sister to my father’s sister and back to my grandparents and then finally back to my mother’s sister. The years with my maternal grandmother have had the most effect on what I do in the front lines of my life. Our house had so many people living in it. At one point, we were 15 women and girls in a 4 bedroomed house. With so many females in my life, I looked and sought inspiration, learning what I could from the many characters displayed. Girls fell pregnant in the house, one dropped out of school, one was married off, and I soldiered on with my education. My sister and I have vowed early on, after seeing all the early pregnancies in our lives, to have a different life. My grandmother was inspirational. Albeit not completed secondary school before her first pregnancy, she managed to work her way through school and had bought a number property by the time I was born.
All these influences, coupled with the work I embarked on in rural Zambia and observing the number of children out of school motivates me to work even harder to speak up and support access to education for all. In rural areas, girls leave school after they become of age. If they do stay until they complete primary school, preference is given to the boys as the girl is seen as easy to marry off and can become someone else’s responsibility. Girls who do not stay in school are likely to get pregnant and not return to school. Inasmuch as there is a re-entry policy for girls who fall pregnant when in school, the girls with whom my organisation works with have not had the opportunity to do that to return to school.
There are a number of ways to tackle the problem. Zambia has some great policies that encourage access to education, especially targeted at the girls such as the re-entry policy, a lower cut off point for entry into secondary school. However, these need to be implemented and studied in a way that actually provides the intended solution to the challenges. There is need for awareness on sexual reproductive health, a taboo topic that cannot be publicly discussed with adolescent girls. This needs to change; teenage girls need to be aware of their sexual reproductive health rights and how they can take care of themselves and access available services such as contraceptives. This information means girls will stay in school longer and will break the poverty cycle in their families and contribute to the development of the community. The ripple effect is evident; everyone wins with more girls in school. There is need too, to involve all stakeholders and not just girls and women in the communities. Fathers, traditional leaders, political leaders and others need to be made aware on the importance of educating children, and especially marginalized girls in their communities and how this benefits everyone.