Education and Schools in Zambia
The standard of education and schools in Zambia is variable. The public schooling system remains poorly funded and lacking resources, while there are a number of good private and international schools in the country, offering a superior quality of education.
The majority of expats living in Zambia choose to send their children to international schools. These schools mostly follow the American or British curricula and are located in Lusaka. Expats living outside the main cities or towns in Zambia may struggle to find suitable schools for their children, and may consider homeschooling as an option.
The Zambian education system
The schooling system in Zambia is divided into three levels:
Primary school: grade 1 to grade 7
Junior secondary school: grade 8 to grade 9
Upper secondary school: grade 10 to grade 12
Children are expected to start school when they are seven, although private schools are more flexible in their admissions and may allow children to begin school earlier. Public schooling in Zambia is free up until grade 7. As many parents cannot afford to educate their children beyond this point, the drop-out rate remains high.
English is the primary language of instruction in Zambian public schools; children are also required to learn an additional local language, depending on their provincial district. The school year in Zambia runs from January to December, and is divided into three terms.
Public schools in Zambia
Whilst public schooling is free up until grade 7, parents are still expected to cover additional costs such as uniforms, stationary and books. With the majority of the population living close to or below the poverty line, even these minor costs are sometimes too high and school attendance may be low.
There are no government-run pre-schools or kindergartens; these schools are mostly run by churches or community groups.
Zambia’s public schooling system is grossly underfunded and many schools lack adequate resources, facilities and teaching staff. While adequate schooling may be available in the major cities, schools in the rural areas are sometimes no more than a mud hut, serving a very large geographical area.
Private schools in Zambia
Private schools operate independently of the Zambian government and have more flexibility in terms of their admissions procedures, curricula and language of instruction. Many of these schools began as part of Christian missionary efforts in Zambia and therefore operate according to specific religious denominations and are run by a particular church. There are also a number of Islamic schools in Zambia.
Other private schools are managed by community or corporate groups. While those run as a business and for profit offer a high standard of education, community schools in Zambia are often small rural schools with limited resources; they have mostly been built to cater to the needs of the local community and do not charge high or any fees.
The standard of education at the more affluent private schools generally exceeds that of public schools, and these schools, particularly those in Lusaka, offer better facilities and opportunities for students. However, they do not come cheap; fees can be high and therefore far out of the reach of many ordinary Zambians.
Private schools in Zambia follow either the local Zambian curriculum or are based on the American or British schooling systems.
International schools in Zambia
There are a number of international schools in Zambia, mostly based in Lusaka. Most of these follow the curriculum of their home country (mostly American and British), with some offering the International Baccalaureate programme.
Unlike public and private schools, international schools in Zambia often have their school year running according to their country of origin’s academic year, so, for example, some American schools will run from August to mid-June the following year.
Fees at international schools are high and can range upwards of USD 20,000 per year. Many schools will also expect a once-off non-refundable admission fee, which can be as high as USD 5,000.
Homeschooling in Zambia
Expats living in the more rural areas of Zambia, with no access to quality education for their children, may consider homeschooling as an option. There are a number of support groups for parents in Zambia who choose this path.