The ministry of Education, Science, Vocational Training And early Education, recently recruited another close-to 5 000 teachers to be posted to teach in government schools. but the government still remains, in practice, uncommitted to staffing the more than 3 000 community schools in the country. These are schools, often in poor communities, started by parents and managed through parent school committees. In a district, as is the case in Kalomo, there can be as many as 83 community schools. Statistics indicate that nationally there are 600 000 children in community schools in Zambia. The picture is even more dire when one considers that the Ministry of education Statistical Bulletin (2009 – 2010) showed that there are between 400 000 to 434 000 children of school going age who may not be in school of any kind.

For 21 years now, there has continued to exist in Zambia, a legion of community school volunteer teachers who today provide a kind of teaching to this estimated 0.6 million school children unable to get absorbed into government schools for reasons of lack as well as the prohibitive distances to the nearest school. Due to mainly ministry of education policy, community schools that have not been upgraded do not qualify to be given government trained teachers from colleges and university. Volunteer teachers therefore, who today number 8 054, continue to offer to their communities what the government has had no capacity to do all these years. The government acknowledges through the Education Act that community schools exist, and yet not much is offered to the schools save for what is termed as erratic small grants. Some learning and teaching materials are once in a while sent to some lucky schools.

The act of recruiting teachers by the government serves to, among other reasons, indicate the importance that the nation attaches to the work done by the teachers. And on this the government has continued to do very well the last couple of years.Without adequate numbers of teachers, schools will not provide the needed schooling to the youth, and the nation, in turn, will be faced with a crisis in the various spheres of development. For any social, economic and technological advancement, society needs schools and teachers to be able to drive the education system and deliver the designed curriculum. Such teachers need to be motivated and taken care of for them to continue to ensure there is meaningful education of the nationals.

Chatting Education wishes to draw some parallels from the recent industrial unrest witnessed at Shoprite Stores in Zambia. Many people hailed the speed with which the government intervened in the dismissals of the more than 3 000 employees for having gone on strike as they pressed for better wages. The government’s reaction was loud and clear and before Shoprite realized it, the workers they had dismissed were back at the shops. So proactive was the government that ministers from various sector ministries responded in a true sense of leadership and spoke for the workers. One may not be far wrong in imagining that community school teachers may also be wishing their plight could be attended to with the same zeal, considering how so much the community schools are toiling to educate vulnerable children in Zambia.

As has aptly been observed, volunteer community school teachers are vulnerable community members who have felt the compassion to take care of the education needs of vulnerable children in their midst. Most of them tell stories of how vulnerable they were when they were growing up. And when you look at the status and circumstances surrounding community school teachers, you quickly conclude that the teachers themselves are still vulnerable. They are taking care of the very helpless children in their communities. The teachers are at the mercy of the humble communities they work in. For remuneration, some of them get paid a tin of cereal at the end of harvest time! Where monetary compensation is considered, average allowance is around K150 to K250. Yes! No mistake about it. This they can receive may be once in a term. Most of the teachers are a pitiful lot, with hardly any shoes in some cases. They cannot even afford a change of clothes even when they travel to attend a workshop of as long as five days.

Chatting Education finds the stories of some community school teachers from Kalomo district as representative of the general scenario surrounding community school teachers. SiamoonoAizy, a physically handicapped teacher, tells of how he struggles to help children in his community. He wishes he could go to college and earn skills that would improve his livelihood and make his disability less burdensome and help his family. And such is the cry of SikaambiRodwell, another teacher who cannot find money to enable him sit for GCE ‘O’ Level examinations so that he could go to college. Hamang’one David bemoans the hard life he experiences in trying to support his family with the K200 he earns at the end of each term. This is echoed by Hezron Keena Banyama who is paid K150 per month. Gift Sakanyangu entered into an even harder-to-believe contract with the community leaders. He was to be paid K10 per term but even after one year the community is not able to pay Gift the K30. A grade 12 school leaver, Kennedy Sikayuni has been teaching as a volunteer teacher for six years. He desires to help orphaned and vulnerable children to lead better lives through education and work towards reducing gender imbalance amongst the youth.

Teaching materials are so hard to come by that sometimes the teachers use bits of charcoal to write on a piece of chalk board, with pupils sitting on blocks or pieces of wood as they attend class. How the teachers even manage to craft out skills from the pupils when there are hardly any teaching materials for the teacher to use, remains hard to imagine. And when community school teachers are paid as little as K10 periodically in return for their selfless service, you feel like asking those that are under government service to consider raising their levels of commitment much higher. The suffering and nil attention which community school teachers go through (or receive) is so compelling that there has to be some form of recognition that government should demonstrate to the poor men and women who have taken it upon themselves to comfort not just the poor children but to also help the government in providing education to the under trodden.

Allowing community school teachers to continue playing their role in educational development through teaching the vulnerable children under the current pitiable conditions, is a sure way of perpetuating the vulnerability of the teachers. Community school teachers are aware that they are vulnerable as they cannot improve themselves. This is a case of vulnerable teachers taking care of orphaned and vulnerable children. And it can only be declared worrying. It works against the self-esteem of both the teachers and the children. It cannot be denied that community schools and community school teachers are there and are playing a critical role in making education for lots of children one hell of a reality that could have easily been a dream.

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