Teaching standards to improve the education system in Zambia

Zambia has made considerable progress in its education system, achieving near universal primary school enrolment and completion. Despite progress, school performance is not meeting the targets set by Zambia’s Ministry of Education and challenges remain, such as relevance, efficiency, equity, and  lack of qualified teachers.

In an effort to improve effectiveness and school performance, Zambia is developing professional standards for its teaching force. As well as setting out what knowledge and skills educators need to possess, the standards should become the basis for performance appraisal, appointments, promotions, inspections and granting practicing certificates.

The Capacity Development for Education (CapED) Programme, one of UNESCO’s delivery platforms for the 2030 Agenda, has been Zambia’s Ministry of General Education (MoGE) develop these norms by first developing a draft national framework. This framework provides details of what and who the standards are targeting and is designed to ensure that teachers’ knowledge, skills, conduct, practices and experience help support high-quality learning, social dialogue and inclusion. The standards include six themes, namely, culture, professional improvement, management of the learning environment, teaching and learning, partnership and networking, and research.

“I think the Zambian education system is edging into the right direction.”

To ensure that teachers and educators are at the center of the standards’ development process, teacher consultations were held across the country in December 2018, providing 778 teachers and educators with a platform to offer their feedback.

We talked to some of these participants to learn about the challenges they face and to hear their thoughts on the new standards.

“The Zambian education system is edging into the right direction”, says Samuel Silomba who works as a teacher educator. Samuel believes that a deep concern for Zambia’s education system is that teacher training has not been appropriately regulated in the past, leading to a lack of trust. He thinks that the standards will solve this issue and will renew confidence in Zambia’s education institutions, as parents will be able to enroll their children in public schools in the knowledge that they will be taught by qualified individuals.

Another challenge Samuel faces in his career is the implementation of some policies such as changes in syllabus, when content is significantly altered. He thinks that clear norms will help regulate these content changes that sometimes currently occur every two to three years.

“We should have brought on board standards and practices long before this.”

Peter Kalenga has been in the teaching profession for 29 years and has worked as both a schoolteacher and a teacher educator. Like Samuel, Peter also expressed concern that without norms, teacher quality is unregulated. “In the past everyone and anyone could jump into the classroom and pretend to be a teacher. Take a piece of chalk and teach”, he explains. He believes that the standards will tackle this issue as it will professionalize and cement the profession.

“We should have brought on board standards and practices long before this”, says Peter, who predicts that the standards are likely to affect classroom teaching, as teachers will have the norms in mind, which, among other things, will lead to better lesson planning. At the end of the day, he explains, the learner will primarily benefit from the standards of practice.

“Teaching standards are going to bring harmony to our education system.”

Masuzyo Sibanda has been working as an Early Childhood Education (ECE) teacher at a primary school for the past 12 years. Despite her specialized training, for the first nine years of her career, she had to work with primary school children and she needed to acquire a primary teaching diploma in order to have her position confirmed. This experience was challenging for her and she thinks that people in her position should be permitted to pursue a career in their area of specialization.

When she succeeded in securing a post in line with her ECE credentials, Masuzyo continued to face difficulties. She told us that her colleagues viewed her diploma as inferior and that the school administration do not fully understand the concept of ECE.

Masuzyo thinks the standards of practice “are going to bring harmony to our education system”. With clear norms, she thinks that head teachers will better understand the difference between ECE and primary education, which would in turn improve monitoring. Another potential improvement is that different types of schools would perform to the same standard, with teachers and educators all having a common goal: the learner.

Amata Chimaboco has worked with primary school children for the past 11 years. Similarly to Masuzyo, she is concerned that Zambian schools are currently functioning in silo and that the standard’s theme of networking could help to improve this issue.

A challenge she has faced personally is that not enough time or importance is allocated to research beyond the set textbook. “If we can go do some other research, sit on the computer, get some other books and know what they talk about in that particular area I think it would be better”, she says. She also felt that, head teachers do not sufficiently support their staff but that once the standards were implemented this situation may improve.

The next step in developing the standards is that in early 2019 a national workshop will take place for stakeholders to give their final input on the revised framework.  

In its aim to improve teacher quality in Zambia, CapED also supported the first National Conference on Pedagogy, which was held in November 2018 and focused on improving education quality through teachers. The conference acted as a platform for education stakeholders to share their knowledge, experiences and research findings to harness best practices. Based on the success of the conference, participants also agreed that the conference should become a national annual event.