All my life I have been told that education is everything. I have been inspired by my great grandmother, one of the first female graduates of UCD. I have been inspired by Malala Yousafzai and her belief in the power of a pen.

Whilst in Zambia, the importance of quality education became vividly apparent to me, for the first time I could really understand the power that education gives a person, and how this can lift whole communities out of the cycle of poverty. I also came to appreciate the importance of focusing on the idea of inclusive, quality education, rather than just a goal to have as many children enrolled in school as possible.

Before my time abroad, some light research revealed that Zambia has made significant strides in its rates of enrolment for children in recent years. This is of course a positive and important step towards achieving SDG 4. From my conversations with Zambian teachers and also pupils, neighbours, taxi drivers and others we met, it seems that education in Zambia is a highly debated topic. The importance of schooling is celebrated and understood and positive progress is happening. However, people also discussed the issues and challenges that remain. My experience, whilst limited to one school, reflected the worries of the people I spoke to.

I could see that in the class I taught there was a huge range of academic ability. Whilst some pupils were doing very well, others were completely left out. Some children had repeated the same grade four times due to repeated exam failure. The large class size made it very difficult for the teacher to give those who were struggling extra attention, this meant that many got through by copying others work. In addition to this, there seemed to be a gender inclusivity issue. Many of the girls in the class were disengaged from learning and lacked confidence in their ability. We tried to improve inclusivity in the classroom by doing group work, this allowed the more advanced pupils to assist those who were struggling.It also ensured that everybody was involved in the learning process.

Equal access and quality: Very few countries have equal access to education. In Ireland we have a two tier system as well as the option for wealthier families to purchase grinds etc. In Zambia there are three types of schooling. Private schools are only accessible to the very wealthy. Government schools are free but the cost of compulsory uniforms and books as well as proximity of location means that they too are not accessible for children from the poorest families. Community schools provide education to many children who cannot access other schooling. These schools are not under the control of the government so they receive no funding. This means that they lack resources and teachers are often not correctly paid. In the school where I volunteered the children had no books or pens and the classroom was overcrowded. Sometimes children would be sent home if they had not paid their financial contribution. This was hard to see, but I can appreciate that the school must somehow sustain itself. Despite the disparities in access to quality education, all children must sit the same exam to go to secondary school. One of the required subjects is IT, an impossible feat for children who attended a school with no electricity let alone a computer. These barriers show that although Zambia has made huge progress in terms of getting children into school, quality education for all remains a challenging goal.

Reflecting upon these challenges makes it clear to me that progress has been made with SDG 4, but significant work remains. I hope that in my lifetime I see it being fulfilled

About Author
Name: Sadhbh O’Connor
Volunteer Sending Agency: Suas
Award: Bronze
SDG: 4