Monday, February 08, 2010

High School in Zambia

After five years in Zambia, I am still trying to understand the intricacies of the Zambian educational system, but I have finally mastered the basics of getting into high school . Here's what it takes: A student attends a Basic School for grades 8 and 9. At the end of grade 9, the student (called a pupil here) takes a government exam--actually eight exams, each lasting for two hours or more. It consumes over two weeks of the school term just to take the exams. Then the pupil goes home--usually in November--and waits for his "results." These come out in February. In 2008 and 2009, the results weren't sent out until mid-February, but this year they were ready by February 1. The results of the grade 9 exam are extremely important. Only those who make above the "government cutoff point" are guaranteed a spot in a boarding school. Those who make below cutoff must either wait for an opening or accept a spot in a day school. For those in remote villages, a day school education means staying in town and living away from family in a rented hut alone or with a friend or two. It also means doing all your own cooking. (My friends who have done this tell me they had to spend hours every day searching for firewood and trying to find odd jobs just to buy their food, leaving little time for studying.)

High school is not free in Zambia, so those lucky ones who earned a place in boarding school now have two weeks in which to "report" by showing up at school with their fees and school supplies.

So right now all over Zambia there is a mad scramble to get the money together for fees and supplies. Pupils go to their relatives, their neighbors, aid programs, and their friends asking for help. I have hopeful pupils at my door from 7:00 in the morning until late afternoon. All come with a slip of paper showing their total test score--for some, that will be the number that seals their future. Some of those who come are accepted on sponsorship at Namwianga. Some are referred to other programs. And some who have low scores are advised to repeat grade nine and try for better results.

Some have the money for school fees, but need school supplies. School supplies here are far more than just notebooks and pens! Boarding pupils must bring their own mattress, sheets, blankets, buckets for taking baths and carrying water, a garden tool for campus maintenance, toiletries, and a school uniform which includes black shoes. And of course a trunk or suitcase to lock up your belongings is helpful too. The costs for school supplies can easily be almost as much as a term's tuition. My spare bedroom is full of mattresses, uniforms, school supplies, and toiletries to help out those who are sponsored at Namwianga, and usually I can provide a little for those who are going to other places.

What happens after the two week "grace period"? Those who didn't report to school within the two weeks will lose their places--and their chance to go to high school and be in boarding this year. Now some of those who had lower scores will be offered places, and the scramble for fees and supplies continues.

1 comment:

Mary Ann Melton said...

What a struggle to get what we consider a basic education!