The Pursuit of Life Long Learning

Over the holidays and in the new year, I have been trying (and mostly failing!) to be a more involved citizen and community member. I came across some of the writings of Jiddu Krishnamurti – an Indian philosopher, writer and speaker.  Krishnamurti was groomed to be the new World Teacher – an “advanced spiritual entity appearing on Earth as a World Teacher to guide the evolution of mankind.”  He later rejected this and claimed to have no loyalty to any one group, nationality, religion, philosophy, etc. He became a renowned author and speaker, commenting on topics ranging from the nature of the mind to human relationships.

I know – some hippy-dippy, tree-hugging stuff!  It’s not usually the type of work I’m interested in.  But I came across this quote over the December break and couldn’t help but learn more about him.


There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.

For me, this particularly resonated.  Growing up, I was a very good student – but I was always looking for the end.  I was always looking for the test to be over, for the paper to be finished, for the term to let out.  And I always thought that “learning” was something you checked at the door when those things finished and you could go back to regular life.  But growing older, changing careers, and meeting a partner that was truly intellectually curious made me rethink a lot of those goals.  And it made me want to strive for something better for myself, and for our scholars in Zambia.


The intrinsic desire to learn is something that is so hard to teach inside classroom walls, but it’s something that resonates through every aspect of our work with Impact Network.  This week, as we kick off our teacher training in Zambia, it particularly holds true for our teachers and staff. Our incredible team in Zambia embodies this fundamental desire every day – and there is no better role model for our students. We always ask for teacher and staff feedback during our monthly training sessions, and for as long back as I can remember, the team has shown a thirst for knowledge, and asked for more – more training, covering a wide range of topics.

To them, we say thank you – and good luck as we start the 2018 school year!


Showcasing the Best of Africa's Art

I came across a TED talk on social media this week by art curator Touria El Glaoui. Glaoui is on a mission to showcase new art from African nations and the diaspora. She also founded 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, an international art fair dedicated to contemporary art from Africa, drawing reference to the 54 countries that make up the African continent. Glaoui shares beautiful and inspiring contemporary art that tells powerful stories of African identity and history. 


As I watched this video, I saw similarities with how Impact Network aims to share powerful stories from Zambia and Africa to educate and engage people.  When I speak about my job with people I meet, they often don’t know where Zambia is. And even the people who have heard of Zambia often don’t know much about it or its education system.  And why would they?  There is not a lot of everyday news out there about Zambia or the many other African countries. And most of the time, when stories do hit the US news cycle – they are negative. They depict African countries with corrupt governments, illnesses, wars, poverty, etc. Not to get political, but the President isn’t the only person who has the impression that these are “s**thole countries.”


It is our job within the network to educate and inform people of this amazing country and its people, especially our students.  These students have the potential to be Zambia’s most successful doctors, lawyers, teachers, and artists.   They have dreams, and education is the first step for them to reach those. We can be advocates for them, just like Touria is for artists in Africa.  Who knows, we might even have an artist within our walls that will one day be featured in the I-54 art fair.  



Cheers to a New Year and Higher Goals for our Students


As 2017 comes to a close, the team in Katete West has taken the opportunity to pause, gather evidence of students’ performance and reflect closely on the goals for 2018. Through an assessment of 10% of students in the 9 Katete West Schools, the team has been able to gain a better understanding of students’ strengths and weaknesses in order to provide more thoughtful support in the new year.

The assessments were largely inspired by the subtasks that make up the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) and Early Grade Maths Assessment (EGMA), which are widely used assessment tools in Zambia and beyond. A key part of the assessment was oral reading fluency in English and Chinyanja, which is often measured by the number of correct words per minute (CWPM) that a student can read.

The Government of Zambia and USAID has set a benchmark of 20 CWPM for grade 2 students, yet in a 2015 study only 8% of students in Zambian grade 2 classes reached that benchmark and therefore a national target of 33% by 2020 was set. Impact Network’s students are already greatly exceeding this target as 50% of grade 2 students assessed could read more than 20 CWPM. This is worth celebrating!

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Another widely used indicator for literacy relates to the number of 0-scores or, how many students cannot read a single word. In the 2015 study by USAID 64% of grade 2 students scored 0 on their oral reading fluency assessments. At Impact Network schools only 14% of students assessed from grade 2 scored 0, which is great progress. However, this is still 14% too many as we would like to see the 0-scores be eliminated completely! It is important to ensure that no child is left behind during the process of learning how to read, as literacy in many ways acts as the key to other academic success.

So although Impact Network students are performing well beyond national targets and have achieved great results, there is still much to be done and new highest to strive for. The assessments have helped the team come up with many ideas for 2018 on how to address some of the challenges identified. These include tailoring teacher trainings, enabling more peer learning among teachers and considering additional initiatives to complement the curriculum in specific areas.


2018 has many opportunities for further learning and the student assessments are only one example of how learning outcomes can drive decision making to further improve the quality of education in Impact Network schools.

Cheers to a new year and higher goals for our students- Onwards and upwards!


Student Assessments - Part 2

The end of the school year is here for Impact Network. Student assessments are complete and the results compiled and analyzed. The Katete West team finished the literacy and numeracy student assessments in all schools over the course of 3 days. The team managed to assess students from grades 2-6 at each school.


I was very impressed from the beginning by the whole team. The designated leaders (grade 7 teachers) succeeded in coordinating the movement of students to ensure that each of the 2 boys and 2 girls selected completed each assessment. It wasn’t an easy task since it was also exam week, and students didn’t necessarily want to stick around after exams to be assessed even more. There was a great amount of cooperation among team leaders, teachers’ in charge and other teachers allowing for a smooth process overall. It was fun for me as well to become more familiar with some of the schools farther away I had yet to visit, and to get to know a lot of the teachers and students better.

The first two days I joined groups going to Mkale and Zatose. I was surprised by the distances and conditions of the roads that made our journey over an hour each time. It left me with a greater appreciation of the dedication of Impact Network teachers and teacher supervisors who navigate these roads to teach and observe in schools and attend teacher trainings weekly.


It is now rainy season, so Day 2 in Zatose was a race against the storm to finish assessments and avoid being on the road. That was when the extent of the remoteness really sunk in. After concluding everything, heavy rains came and we discovered an issue with the car. I panicked in silence thinking, What are we going to do? While waiting for the rains to pass and then for the driver and the teachers, also self- ascribed “bush mechanics” to work on the car, I made the most of that time by interacting with the grade 6 students who had just finished . When asked if they were excited for grade 7 next year, they answered with big, bright smiles that they were. My inner teacher emerged and to pass the time I introduced a game everyone back home learns in their childhood--hangman. Of course, I explained everything in English as my Cinyanja skills are not coming along as I’d hoped, but they got the concept rather quickly, even finding it really funny. That was the highlight of the whole project for me, being able to interact with students in a way that is both educational and fun on both sides.

The other time spent in the schools with the students was very revealing.  I helped to assess some of the older students in Math and English reading. Observations of strategies different students used to solve math problems were intriguing, but I was blown away by hearing some of the students reading abilities in English. It still makes me really proud and honored to be working with others who are improving learning outcomes in these extremely rural places.


We are now in the process of sharing the results with teacher supervisors in preparation for January 5 teacher training. While a lot of learning is taking place in schools, we have also learned with the results, (further detailed in Felicia’s upcoming blog post) specifically areas in literacy and numeracy where students can be learning even more. In discussions with the teacher supervisors, they have been quite surprised, but also very interested and motivated in their workshop planning to improve teachers’ skills in these areas. 



Fact vs. Opinion

This week we have a guest post from Chinelo Nwosu, our Program Manager

At the end of every year, I like to reflect on the decisions I have made and how they have shaped my path for the year. And my personal theme for this year has been: persevering against all odds. Throughout this year I often found myself thinking back to one of my favorite times during my Peace Corps service, that I’d like to share with you!

The first 3 months of my Peace Corps journey began in a small village, Taba, in the District of Kamonyi, in the Southern Province of Rwanda. Taba is where I went through training which included long hours of language (Kinyarwanda), sessions of tech training for teaching the Rwandan Education system, and cross-culture & Health sessions just to name a few. While this time was filled with exciting new experiences, it also had its occasional stresses. Just when those stresses were beginning to peak, we were given the opportunity to put our training to the test. We were allowed to teach the children of the surrounding villages – this was to give us practical training, and it also helped with our confidence in the classroom. For some, like myself, this was our first time teaching in a classroom setting so I was extremely excited to be paired up with Zack, one of my training group’s very experienced teachers.

Since our theme for the week was opposites, we decided to teach Fact and Opinion. “Good Morning class, today we are going to discuss fact and opinion”, Zack said very loudly. After all of the students repeated “Fact and Opinion” in a low mutter, they took out their notebooks and prepared to take notes on the day’s subject. After giving definitions for both fact and opinion, Zack then gave examples, to ensure that they understand. “Rwanda is in eastern Africa.” “It is a beautiful day today.” “I think Fanta Citro is better than Fanta Orange.” After every example, Zack took a poll from the students on whether the statement was a fact or an opinion. He also allowed the students to give their own examples, but before he turned it over to them, there was one last example: “Men are stronger than women”. Right after those words left his mouth the class roared with students yelling “Fact. Teacher, FACT!” Even though taking a poll was not really needed because we knew how the majority felt, we still took a poll. While the majority of the class felt that the aforementioned statement was a fact, there were two students who quietly insisted that this statement was an opinion. As the students laughed at the two, Zack broke the news to them, “Men are stronger than Women is….. an opinion.” The class began to emphatically disagree, yelling “Not. Teacher, NOT! ” “You lie me.”

After getting the students to calm down, Zack explained to them why it was an opinion. They did not believe him. So we decided as a team to introduce them to the wonders of… Arm Wrestling! We showed them a demo. As Zack and I sat on either side of the desk, we quietly argued about whether or not he was going to let me win to prove the point. I won, in both cases. To drive the point home we decided that I should have a REAL arm wrestle with one of the boys in the class. The biggest kid (I believe he was in his late teens) in class chooses to arm wrestle with me. By this time students were excited to see the outcome. The student and I took our seats and Zack prepped our hands for a proper Arm Wrestling Battle. Anticipation was building. I needed to win so that a whole day’s work would not be ruined. I felt like I was on an afterschool special and I, in that moment was an example for women everywhere! Just as Zack let our hands go the Dean of Discipline (a female) walked in and began to cheer me on.


After about a minute filled with grunting and suspense, it was over. I was the victor. The females were beyond excited, including the Dean of Discipline. As my right arm throbbed, I took immense pleasure in changing the way that not only the males viewed females but also how the females viewed themselves.


I am sharing this story because it is one that I often return to when I need motivation. One that often makes me think of hope, promise, perseverance and challenging one’s self to go against the perceived norm. This story of my students makes me think of our students in Zambia and the students’ lives that we have yet to touch. Prior to establishing our nine pilot schools, popular opinion might have been that the children in our communities had all of the odds stack up against them. But with the passion for education and commitment to our mission, Impact Network and our supporters are making victory more attainable for our students. With each day of lessons, each year of matriculation, we are gradually changing the narrative of that preconceived opinion and creating several new truths for our students and their futures.

Grit Can Predict Success

I recently came across a 2013 TedTalk by Dr. Angela Duckworth on what is the best predictor of success in a person’s life, including when it comes to goals in education.


Dr. Duckworth left a job in management consulting to teach math to seventh-graders in a New York public school.  When teaching, she quickly realized that IQ wasn't the only thing separating the successful students from those who struggled.  And after more experience, she realized that what is needed in education is “a much better understanding of students and learning from a motivational perspective, from a psychological perspective.” 

Dr. Duckworth left teaching and went to graduate school to become a psychologist. Her research spanned a wide range – including West Point Cadets, national spelling bee participants, and corporate sales people.  In all of those very different contexts, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success.  It wasn't social intelligence, good looks, physical health or IQ. It was grit.  She defines grit as the following:

“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it's a marathon, not a sprint.”

Dr. Duckworth goes on to say she does not have the answer of how to build grit in people and that is it something we all need to work to understand better.   “We need to take our best ideas, our strongest intuitions, and we need to test them. We need to measure whether we've been successful, and we have to be willing to fail, to be wrong, to start over again with lessons learned.”

Another researcher, Dr. Carol Dweck at Stanford University, studied something called the “growth mindset” – the idea that when kids learn that the brain grows in response to a challenge, they're much more likely to persevere when they fail, because they don't believe that failure is a permanent condition.

I would bet that while our students at Impact Network might not study the “growth mindset” at an early age, they see around them the daily challenges of rural life in Zambia.  They see people fail and try again, because of the very nature of their circumstance, and ultimately they see their communities succeed because of this. So I believe that every day, our scholars are learning how to be “gritty”, and that given the chance to attend school, they will be successful! They will be the future lawyers, doctors, nurse and teachers of Zambia. 


Take the grit test yourself!


Reflections and Highlights from our 2017 School Year

This week, Felicia Dahlquist, our Implementation Specialist,  shares highlights from the school year. 

Friday marked the end of the academic year in Zambia. This week students have taken their last exams and closed their books for the year. Our students, teachers and support team have worked incredibly hard over the year and get a well-earned break!

As classes end we are taking the opportunity to reflect back over the highlights of the year and appreciate all the learning that has taken place. First time students have learnt how to write their names along with a whole array of other things and grade 7 students have studied hard to pass their exams that will hopefully take them to secondary school.

This week I asked students, teachers and members of the management team about some of the things they have learnt over the past year. Here is what they said:

“We have learnt many things. We learnt about rural-urban migration, lots of different insects and all the surrounding countries to Zambia. Oh and we also learnt about adverbs!”

-          Esnea, Grade 5 at Chivuse Primary School

Pictured Grade 5 Girls at Chivuse)

Pictured Grade 5 Girls at Chivuse)

"I learnt a lot! I mainly learnt how to interact with friends and people around me. As humans we run out of truths and facts, so we need to ask our friends and colleagues to share their knowledge. I have learnt a lot from my colleague George. We are always encouraging each other to be better. I have also learnt a lot from my students, especially as we were preparing together for their grade 7 exams.

I will say I have also learnt better financial management. When I first started getting my salary I would spend it without a budget. But now I plan and I have gotten better with making it last longer.”

-          Richard, Grade 7 Teacher at Kanyelele Primary School

“I am always learning. This year the biggest learning for me was understanding how to take care of my baby! I learn how to nurse her and cook for her. It has been challenging!”

-          Elizabeth, Grade 1 Teacher at Chivuse Primary School

“This year I have learnt so many things! For example how to do financial reporting and completing other necessary reports. I have acquired some leadership skills, as this year was the first time that I had people reporting to me. I have learnt many functions and formulas in Excel too. During the holidays I am studying business studies and it’s nice to learn things on the job that help my studies and vice versa.

I also learnt how to ride a motorbike- I didn’t know that before I came to Joel in May!”

-          James, Operations Manager for Katete West


So much learning takes place in and around our schools and communities. In many ways our schools act as hubs and catalysts for learning well beyond the classroom.

As we are all on a journey of life-long learning, it is important to take a moment to pause and be reminded of our own learning processes and all the incredible things we can do because of it.

What did you learn this year? 


Student Assessments – Part 1


This week in rural Zambia, we are preparing to conduct student assessments at each of the 9 community schools.   The assessments will take place next week, but the timing makes things a little more challenging because next week is also exam week.  Luckily, our Implementation Specialist, Felicia, has been an amazing leader by getting everyone on board and plowing forward in high spirits.


We will be using the USAID Early Grade Reading (EGRA) and Early Grade Math assessments (EGMA) used around the world to identify specific problem areas in literacy and numeracy. The assessments will be carried out by our dynamic team consisting of the Operations Manager, 2 Teacher Supervisors, the grade 7 teachers,  and the Life Skills and Sexuality teachers. We had 2 days of training at Joel with a bit of last minute exam sorting and checking thrown into the program.


During the training, Felicia explained the purpose and importance of this endeavor as well as how each of us can benefit from participating. She also emphasized important aspects like making sure students feel comfortable during the assessment to get better outcomes. Everyone had the chance to actually practice administering the assessment on each other and then later to students in Joel before we venture out to other schools next week. The results from that small sample were very helpful. Many students could read fluently in English, but when it came to answering questions about the reading, they had more challenges with the comprehension.  This along with the data from other schools will allow us to set targets for next year and plan accordingly on what specific areas to focus on.



The team will be divided into 3 smaller groups. What I love is that the role of team leader has been assigned to a grade 7 teacher on each team. Rather than giving the roles to other management staff, they have been given the opportunity to further their own leadership skills. Expectations were set very high on the first day, and I suspect many had doubts and possibly felt overwhelmed at the scope of the project. On day 2 of training the leaders arrived sharply dressed and I noticed that throughout the day they had in fact stepped-up by contributing to discussions and debriefs, and leading logistical planning sessions for next week. Like the teachers, this is also my first experience with EGRA and EMRA, so I’m excited to learn new skills in data collection and data analysis.  I’ll be with a couple of different teams providing support and I’m really looking forward to seeing how everything pans out. I’m certain that challenges will arise, but Felicia has done a great job of instilling in the team confidence and positivity. 


To Be Continued….


Learning How to Speak Technology in Our Classrooms

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Hi, I’m Maha and I joined Impact Network in September of this year to help plan Chefs for Impact and stayed on to help through end of year projects.

Before joining Impact Network I was teaching English as Second Language at a private language school in New York City. My students came to New York from all over the world with the goal of learning or improving their English.

At the school I taught, we had a 30+ section, reserved for students who are at least 30 years old, which allowed teachers to focus on the specific needs of adult learners. Research shows that the older you get, the harder it is to learn a second language; I developed a deep admiration for my students in the 30+ section of the school. They were always extremely dedicated, focused and had a clear understanding of the effort they needed to put into their learning. The school also had an online learning platform, onto which teachers posted their lesson plans, homework and any additional activities, and the students in turn could download/submit homework and do some additional practice using the platform.  What I realized, however, was that some of my older students often had a hard time and reluctance to engaging with the technology, and much preferred it if I gave them the homework and activities in printed form. This was obviously due to the fact that they hadn’t been accustomed to learning using technology and didn’t want to invest time in adopting it on top of their language learning. This didn't put a stop to their studying but definitely didn’t take it to its deepest potential; their learning process was still defined by the more traditional methods of gaining and engaging with new knowledge.

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How does this relate to Impact Network? When I joined Impact, I quickly became passionate about their mission. What drew me to it the most was the fact that the students were not only given access to quality education, but that they were learning the language of technology in parallel with the assigned curriculum. In contrast to my students in New York, who come from affluent backgrounds, Impact Network students in rural Zambia come from poorer families. They, however, will be entering the real world as adults who are not overwhelmed by technology but who see it as a facilitator and are able to engage with it with ease and confidence. Students coming from Impact Network schools will never be hindered by technology.  The education they receive from a very young age will empower them to be people of modern and future times, able to compete on a global scale.

Steve Jobs said: “Technology is nothing. What's important is that you have a faith in people, that they're basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they'll do wonderful things with them.” The team at Impact Network puts faith in its teachers and communities, who do the same with the students, and they are all equipped with the right tools to succeed, be successful and grow into their fullest potential. The technology not only facilitates the learning at Impact Network schools, but also ensures that our students are ready to join the ever-changing technological world of today.

I leave Impact Network this month, fully believing in its mission and the tools that are used in order to drive it forward.  I am proud to have contributed to a team that cares deeply about shaping future generations and I look forward to seeing Impact Network grow and flourish further in the years to come. 

- Maha

Meet Caroline - One of Our Life Skills and Sexuality Teachers

Our intern Monica interviewed one of our teachers.

This week I met with Caroline, a young facilitator of the Life Skills and Sexuality (LSS) course, to learn more about the program, check on its progress, and work together on lesson plans and activities.  The course uses a curriculum titled “Our Future” developed by teachers and pupils in Chipata district with the Zambian ministry of Education, Planned Parenthood Association and Young, Happy, Healthy and Safe. There are two teachers now at Impact Network who travel to several schools throughout the week to deliver lessons to grade 5, 6, and 7 students.


How long have you been teaching this course?

Since June this year. I used to be a regular teacher at one of the Impact schools but now I just teach LSS.

What is a typical day for you?

I wake up, take a bath, get my bike and ride to school. It takes around 30 minutes. It’s really fun, especially going downhill really fast. It feels like a motorbike. I arrive around 6:30, greet people, and have breakfast-- sometimes juice and a muffin. Then I get ready for work. After the last session, I stay with the teachers and learners until around 4:30 and ride home. I draw water, clean the house, and eat. Then I start text chatting with friends. I have one friend at the school, but the others are all far away.

What are your classes like? How old are the students? What are you teaching this week?

It depends. In some schools the students are adults, in others not yet teenagers. Yesterday at Mnyaula the first session was grade 5, a huge class. But it was pretty fun to associate with different learners. After that was grade 6, which was even more fun. The topic this week is friendship. We did drawing activities and a role play activity in small groups about rejection and inclusion. We talked about good virtues of a real friend, such as kindness and loyalty. They got to analyze which friends are real or fake. Next, in grade 7, the topic was “keeping on our path” and our goals in life. We discussed what our goals are, whether it is a job, children, or family, and the importance of having goals. They helps us to work hard and keep away from things that distract. If you have a goal its easier to avoid bad things and stay focused. They also learned there are things in life we have no control over, but not to make excuses and find another way. For example, if I want to go to school but don’t have any money, I can use a talent or skill to make or raise money for it.

What are some of the students’ goals?

To become doctors, nurses, or to pass grade 7. We talked about setting realistic goals too and the stepping stones to achieve it.

And what about your goals?

I want to become a teacher and get a PhD. Now I am learning a lot of things. I learn how to handle a class and learners, how to make lesson plans. This is a good opportunity. I learn every day, it’s an ongoing thing. I am comfortable with myself now despite not having gone to college.

 What are some of the challenges of teaching and this course in particular?

Well there are challenges, but it just depends how you go about it. There are sensitive topics but we are trained now. I have to prepare beforehand and think about how I might offend someone. If it’s a gender-sensitive topic, I separate boys and girls into groups and talk to them separately. 

What are the highlights of the program? And teaching for you?

One of the positive things is the students are learning to decide their own paths. And they learn about equality. Things are different outside, but in the class, status is put aside and everyone is treated fairly. They learn to be social, friendly, and how to cooperate. Teenagers learn that things happen to them and it’s normal. The females learn how to avoid unwanted pregnancies and girls are becoming more and more educated. About teaching, I like sharing knowledge. I learn different things from learners as well. You have to enjoy it and it won’t seem like hard work. I want to see people I teach grow up to be leaders and feel that I took part in it. I will feel I achieved my goal as a teacher.


This interaction was a useful reminder that education is more than just learning subjects. It’s also important that young people are taught how to make good decisions, set goals, and have healthy friendships and relationships.  Most importantly, students have access to accurate information that may prevent them from making a bad decision that could have negative consequences for their lives and futures.