Next week the 2018 academic year begins for all the students at Impact Network schools. Yet across Zambia, many children may be denied access to education this year largely due to two main pressures from the past few months.
One of the pressures is a flare up of Cholera across the country, which has delayed the opening of schools and has had a profound impact on people’s sources of income. With many markets having been closed and large public gatherings restricted by the Government in order to prevent the spread of the disease, livelihoods have been compromised.
Another factor is the ongoing drought. In much of Zambia, it has left many farmers worried about their crops and this year’s planned harvest. Parents are not sure if they will be able to feed their children and continue to support their families. Some have even reverted to selling their government subsidized fertilizer to make ends meet, which will certainly jeopardize their source of revenue later in the year.
A lot of research from across the African continent emphasizes that when people’s livelihoods are impacted by external ‘shocks’ to the economy and the little savings people have are spent on sustaining their families, education is first to be side-lined. Yet, it is also overwhelmingly agreed that education is a key component to breaking the cycle of poverty and creating financial stability among vulnerable communities.
Although public primary education in Zambia is technically free of charge, there are many ‘hidden costs’ associated with attending school, such as uniforms, pens, books, and PTA fees among other things. These costs, when added up among all of the school-aged children in a family, can be the difference between a parent being able to send their children to school or not. Students might enroll late or not at all due to a family’s financial situation during times of economic hardship.
As such, I am thankful that Impact Network is able to contribute to the stability and continuity of children’s education in the communities we work in. All the students in our schools receive the materials they need and parents do not need to contribute with any additional expenses to their children’s schooling.
On Monday over 4,000 thousand students will start school with Impact Network, and although we know that many of their parents will be struggling to make ends meet, we also know that through continuous education, the future of these communities will be more secure and prosperous. We can only hope that in the future even more children will be able to attain all the benefits that going to school entails.