A well-educated population is essential to stimulate economic growth, provide effective public services, and reduce poverty. Zambia has made significant gains to expand access to education, and has steadily increased primary school enrollment to 81.8 percent. Despite this progress, poor learning outcomes and regional disparities persist. The most recent Early Grade Reading Assessment found that only four percent of Grade 2 learners achieved national grade level reading proficiency. Inadequate resources, poor-quality of education service delivery, and low secondary progression rates continue to challenge the education system. The COVID pandemic resulted in seven months of learning loss, further exacerbating these challenges. 

In collaboration with the Government of the Republic of Zambia, USAID activities aim to increase learners’ performance in the early grades by targeting foundational literacy skills. USAID activities provide improved relevant teaching and learning materials and strengthen the capacity of teachers and school administrators to better deliver education services. USAID also provides targeted support to students and schools most marginalized.

Strengthening Children’s Ability to Read 

USAID has a strong history of collaboration with the Ministry of Education (MOE) to improve performance of community and public schools and expand equitable learning opportunities for both boys and girls. USAID partners with the MOE to improve the quality of reading instruction. USAID has supported the MOE to develop relevant teaching and learning materials, strengthen their classroom and national assessment capabilities, and increased parental and community engagement in childrens’ education to improve childhood literacy rates. USAID has supported the MOE to develop, print, and distribute primary school teachers’ guides and literacy textbooks in English and seven local languages, including teaching and learning materials for children with special needs. 

USAID’s Let’s Read activity supports 1.4 million children in pre-primary through Grade 3, reaching over half of Zambia’s public primary and community schools. USAID’s Transforming Teacher Education activity supports ten colleges of education and two universities to better prepare primary school teachers to implement improved learner-centered teaching practices. 

USAID’s Edufinance activity supports the MOE to develop and implement a comprehensive policy and regulatory environment to reduce barriers to entry in the education market for non-state primary education providers. The activity builds the administrative capacity of the MOE to effectively regulate the non-state education sector. The activity also works with financial intermediaries to develop loan products to support operations of non-state schools and to supplement school fees in peri-urban and urban areas.

Expanding Learning Opportunities for All Children

Primary school enrollment in Zambia has grown at an unprecedented rate over the last two decades, flooding schools with first-generation learners and resulting in classrooms with deeply heterogeneous learning levels. The net enrolment rate has increased from 66 percent in 2000 to 82 percent in 2020. Compounding this challenge, the MOE often pressures teachers to complete dense curricula and prepare students for high-stake exams, leading teachers to teach to the top of the class. USAID partners with the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) to support the MOE’s Catch-Up accelerated education program at target schools in two provinces. This program trains teachers to implement the Teaching at the Right Level approach, which involves assessing and teaching literacy and numeracy according to proficiency level as opposed to grade level. Students then follow a learner-centered program that targets their current learning levels and helps them recover foundational skills in order to “catch up” to grade level.

Measuring Academic Achievement 

USAID’s Education Data activity conducted a 2018 baseline Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) and a 2021 follow-on midline assessment to measure children’s reading proficiency. The findings from the EGRA are used to inform education decision making. This activity will build the capacity of the MOE Examination Council of Zambia and support the MOE to track and collect data to improve learning outcomes.

A young learner practices her reading as part of the USAID Let's Read Project at Kasupe Primary School in Chipata.
A young learner practices her reading as part of the USAID Let's Read Project at Kasupe Primary School in Chipata.
PHOTO: Chando Mapoma / USAID Zambia