by Richard Bail
We are now approaching an inflection point. The large costs of supporting a cohort of students in secondary schools is about to diminish as those students graduate allowing investment in innovative ideas to strengthen the Living Hope School. The CWB Executive Committee has recently identified several “big ideas” which we might choose to pursue with the additional funds that will be freed up and possible external grant support.
The first big idea is to introduce the Zedupad notebook computers as a dominant educational technique. The Zedupad has only recently come on the market in Zambia, and it is a truly remarkable device. The student model is available for less than 150 US dollars, and yet it contains the entire Zambian primary school curriculum in English and 4 different local languages as well as detailed lesson plans and resource lists for the teachers. In general, one computer serves six children in a class, where students work in pairs on the computer while the other four are performing related studies. The teacher model has access to an “educational Wikipedia” and can utilize Internet access, enabling basic research to be carried out. Experience has shown that the children love to use the computer and learn very quickly. Early reading skills in the primary grades would seem a good place to initiate Zedupads, but eventually a very thorough comprehension of the Zambian curriculum could be had over the 6 years of primary education. Some of us are particularly interested in designing a controlled trial of the Zedupad in collaboration with Zambian education experts so that a benefit analysis could be carried out and best practices could be delineated which might benefit a large number of schools throughout Zambia. It is also enticing to think about using the Zedupads for literacy classes for adults during evening hours.
A second big idea is to create a model for early childhood education at Living Hope. Abundant evidence has been accumulating in recent years on the importance of early childhood education in Africa as well as in the US. The Zambian Ministry of Education has recognized this importance and recently mandated that all schools offer early childhood programs, but without providing resources or substantive guidance. Living Hope already has a primordial early education program, and moreover, Living Hope is blessed with plenty of space, indoors and out. Working with Zambian experts CWB could develop a model early education program at Living Hope just as Head Start was developed here in the US. This would require creating an appropriate space and training appropriate personnel. An emphasis on participation by care-givers themselves in the program as well as parenting education programs for the care-givers would be included. This intervention could also be subjected to evaluation by a controlled clinical trial. If the program became very successful, it might be opened to the broader community who would pay a school fee, which might partially subsidize the salary of teachers.
A third big idea would address the dismal levels of illiteracy at fourth grade level noted by the school director, Mr. Kamutande. This would be to introduce an intensive reading program developed in the US. Earlier this year we visited a community school in Lusaka which had introduced the program two years ago and they have noted remarkable improvements in reading. This allowed a substantial number of pupils to skip a grade level. Concomitant improvements in other subjects occurred as well. This could be introduced at Living Hope with the participation of the staff of the other school (which was offered to us.) This would require special books and special training for the teachers.
A fourth big idea is to put a renewed focus on vocational technical training (VT). Providing graduates of Living Hope with a marketable skill is a laudable objective. We could work with local industry and business to train students in a manner tailored to the needs of the businesses. In this model the business would benefit by having a reliably custom-trained work-force, while the graduates would have a reliable way of sustaining their families. Our CWBZ Board of prominent Zambians might be well positioned to help us identify potential business partners. This could be done in collaboration with the department of VT at the Ministry of Education. Again, Living Hope is blessed with plenty of space and already has an active tailoring program, but it is also possible that a new facility could be erected on the Maziopa site off-campus from Living Hope. It is also possible that a collaboration with the Dhzitandezheni Cooperative Training School in Garden Compound could be arranged. A unique and important asset which Living Hope has is the 40 hectares of cultivatable land in Kalindi. Agriculture remains the largest means of earning a livelihood in Zambia, and thus, acquiring vocational training in agriculture is among the most important VT goals for the country as a whole.