The Zambian Education and Skills Sector Plan (ESSP) 2017 – 2021 provides details of Key Issues relating to Early Childhood Education, Primary, Secondary and Tertiary levels.

Serve Ourselves’ areas of work are Early Childhood Education (ECE) and Primary Education. 

The number of public centres for ECE in 2016 was only 1,849 with a total of 160,424 learners (77,993 males and 82,431 females), from a total eligible population of 2,118,289 (3–6-year-olds). However, the rate of enrolment is still below 10 per cent of the total population of the target age group. 


The Key Issues for Early Childhood Education which are highlighted in the ESSP are as follows:

  1. Insufficient public funding and spending for ECE activities. 
  2. There are challenges in demonstrating the benefits (economic, social, etc.) of ECE provision. One of these challenges relates to the lack of systematic documentation of normative data in developmental milestones of children aged 0–6 in the Zambian context. 
  3. While the role of non-government actors (private sector, NGOs) is crucial in ECE provision, there are persistent challenges related to planning and management. One such challenge is that there is a complete absence of data from private providers of ECE, and there has also been little systematic collection of reliable age-grade data (except for data collected from public ECE centres annexed to primary schools from 2015). 
  4. Access is hampered by two factors: 
  1. Learners often have to travel long distances to attend ECE centres, especially in rural areas; and 
  2. Infrastructure is inadequate and inappropriate. 

The classrooms are annexed onto regular primary school classrooms and have not been adapted for their purpose; e.g., the furniture is not appropriate for ECE learners and water points as well as sanitation facilities are not age appropriate. The play parks are bare or have very few resources in them. The current distribution of ECE service is biased towards private provision in urban settings, with the majority of young children in the rural areas not able to access any services. 

  1. Equity is an issue because of the lack of integration of special needs in ECE provision. There are few opportunities for children with special educational needs at ECE in terms of adequate infrastructure, trained SEN teachers, and equipment and materials. ECE provides a strategic window for early identification and intervention for children with special educational needs, but GRZ is not yet capitalizing on this opportunity.
  2. Low and poor quality of ECE services in most centres across the country. This is mainly owing to insufficient numbers of teachers, and the lack of age appropriate teaching and learning materials and equipment. It is also a result of inadequate human resources for managing, implementing, delivering and monitoring ECE. For example, not only is the number of teachers being trained and supplied at ECE level (many teach in primary schools) inadequate, but those that are teaching at ECE level have limited pedagogical skills and are not supported through CPD.
  3. There is currently no standard mechanism in place for systematic school readiness assessment at the ECE level, although the newly developed ECE Standard Guidelines will provide a standard monitoring tool. It will be important to ensure that the newly developed tool is fully implemented. 
  4. Lack of integrated multisectoral approaches to supporting ECE and mainstreaming of cross cutting issues.
  5. Lack of smooth transition mechanisms to Grade 1 for ECE learners.


At Primary Level, Serve Ourselves initially concerns itself with basics in Reading, Writing, Science and Arithmetic. The whole idea is to ensure access to quality education for every child. Most children in ages 7 to 13 are in primary school but their learning quality is compromised due to many reasons. Serve Ourselves wishes to make huge contributions.

Textbook availability continues to be a substantial challenge. According to the 2014 PER, five primary students shared one or less textbook for each subject, 1 for Mathematics, 0.9 for English and 0.9 for Science.

The Ministry of General Education has been piloting the ‘Catch-Up Programme’ that began in November 2016. The programme groups pupils according to their ability levels rather than grade level or age for a targeted period of time. With teaching targeted to pupils’ abilities, appropriate materials for each ability level, specific training for teachers, and adequate supportive monitoring mechanisms in place, the evidence of the success of these programmes is strong and indicates that such programmes allow pupils to catch up and progress in their education. 

Time that teachers spend in the classroom teaching gives cause for concern too. Some surveys have found that only 52 per cent of teachers were in the classroom teaching during random visits. Financing also continues to present challenges to the sub-sector.

Some of the Key issues for primary education include:

  1. Repetition rates at almost 7 per cent are too high in primary school. There is no international evidence that repetition helps learning, and encouraging automatic promotion would free up resources currently being used by repeaters.
  2. Of great concern is the fact that only 4.2 hours (instead of 5 hours) a day are spent in classroom instruction in Grades 1–4 while Grades 5–7 spend on average 5.6 hours (instead of 6 hours) and 8–12 spend an average of 6.4 hours. 
  3. Financing of operating costs at school level continues to present a challenge. The execution of school grants through the DEB offices remains a challenge as some resources are not released to the schools and end up being used by the DEBs office;
  4. There is a lack of a structured programme management unit within MoGEto address issues such as school health and nutrition, and comprehensive sexuality education, as these issues are covered by different Directorates.
  5. There is a lack of structure at central level to oversee community schools.
  6. The cost of education provision to children with special educational needs is high. Limited availability of resources hampers full implementation of policy intentions. While provision for children with special educational needs is included in all education policies and strategies and there is every good intention, there are no guarantees for children with special educational needs and their parents that these policies are prioritized and actually implemented.
  7. There are challenges in providing equitable access to children in remote areas. Despite an increase in the number of school places and the construction of more schools, primary education has lost places. Primary schools have lost a number of classes to secondary schools because of the upgrading, while some classrooms are also being converted into ECE centres.
  8. Slow implementation of the home-grown school feeding programme is affecting the overall educational impact on key indicators.
  9. Enrolment growth has stagnated since 2014, especially in the number of children of primary school age (7–13), meaning that the total number of primary school-age children out of school has started to increase. An additional challenge is that children often do not enter the education system at the appropriate age.
  10. Low learning achievement scores for most of the standardized national, regional, international assessments and successive public examinations, all of which suggest that children are drifting through the school system with very low mastery of desired learning competencies. Appropriate-age enrolment helps learning. Increasing, ideally to 100 per cent, the number of seven-year-olds in the population enrolling in Grade 1 is a very low-cost, high-impact intervention.
  11. Pupil:teacher ratios vary substantially between provinces, ranging from 80:1 to 31:1in certain provinces. There are disparities in the distribution of teachers, with rural schools generally having fewer teachers than urban schools.
  12. Most community school teachers lack formal teacher training and are not well compensated.
  13. Sources of power are a challenge. Estimates are that 80 per cent of primary schools are not electrified and most of those without electricity are in rural areas.
  14. Language of instruction affects learner performance, especially in the early grades, as some teachers are deployed where they are not familiar with the language of instruction.
  15. High rates of teacher absenteeism; even when teachers are present in the school more than one third are not in classrooms teaching or they are in classrooms but not teaching.