Although Zambia has greatly expanded access to early grade education during the past decade, near universal access has come at a cost to the quality of education. Consequently, learners’ test scores have remained low across the country, particularly in literacy. The challenge of raising literacy is difficult, yet crucial to improving the financial prospects of Zambian children. Because studies show that literacy rates directly correlate to national economic growth, they are also key to meeting Zambia’s regional economic competitiveness goals.
The Strengthening Educational Performance – Up (STEP Up) Zambia activity, funded by USAID and implemented by Chemonics, is one of several long-term donor-funded programs working with the Zambian government to improve management of the country’s education system.
Tasked with improving the government’s access to and use of student performance data and decentralizing management of the education system, it is one of three ongoing USAID-funded education activities designed to work in unison to support learning, especially in early grade reading, and to engage other donors, cooperating partners, and local companies active in Zambia’s education sector. Effective coordination among these actors and programs is a complex challenge, but critical to harmonizing efforts rather than duplicating or even contradicting them.
“The stars are aligned in Zambia. Policy, curriculum, and decision-makers are all looking at the same issue: improving literacy rates in early grades. Hopefully, this will allow Zambia to really jump forward and improve literacy, but for that to happen there, all the actors need to work together to tackle their piece of the problem,” said Sergio Ramírez-Mena, chief of party for the program.