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Key findings
  • Six in 10 Zambians (60%) say the government is addressing the country’s educational needs “fairly well” or “very well,” up from 54% in 2014. But among the poorest Zambians, the same majority (60%) say the government is performing poorly on education.
  • By a 2-to-1 margin, Zambians also say the government is more effective than it was “a few years ago” in addressing educational needs. But among the poorest respondents, only three in 10 (29%) agree, and the country’s regions differ considerably in their assessments of the government’s efforts on education.
  • Among Zambians who had contact with public schools during the previous 12 months, more than two-thirds (69%) say that obtaining the services they needed was “easy” or “very easy.” But about one in 10 (11%) say they had to pay a bribe to obtain needed services.
  • Almost nine out of 10 Zambians (86%) “agree” or “strongly agree” that girls and boys have equal opportunities to get an education.
  • A majority (58%) of Zambians say it’s “somewhat likely” or “very likely” that official action will be taken if people report teacher misconduct such as absenteeism or mistreatment of students.

While Zambia has achieved steady growth in primary-school enrollment and completion, critics say poorly trained teachers, inadequate learning materials, and poor school governance undermine the quality of education (Global Partnership for Education, 2018). To address these challenges, the Zambian government has committed to educational reforms designed to make teaching and learning more responsive to the needs and demands of the population. Minister of General Education David Mabumba recently announced five pillars of reform: teacher recruitment and career progression, school furniture, textbook development, school infrastructure, and examinations (Lusaka Times, 2018a).

According to World Bank (2019) education data from 2013, 87% of Zambian girls and 85% of boys were enrolled in primary school, and 78% of girls and 80% of boys completed primary education. Zambian women face an additional barrier to accessing and completing their education: 28% of young women between the ages of 15 and 19 are mothers or have been pregnant (Human Rights Watch, 2018) – nearly six times the global average of 4.7% (World Health Organization, 2018) – and despite a government re-entry policy, only 50% of girls who become pregnant go back to school (Lusaka Times, 2018b).

Since the government announced its commitment to reforming the educational sector, an additional challenge arose when it was reported that about U.S. $1.6 million was embezzled at the Department of General Education. This has affected the international funding available to developing the education sector as the U.K. Department for International Development suspended funding pending further investigation (Lusaka Times, 2018c).

In this paper, we use Afrobarometer survey data to explore popular perceptions and evaluations of educational policy in Zambia. Despite the challenges facing the education system, the data suggest that Zambians approve of the government’s handling of the educational needs of the population, find it fairly easy to obtain public school services, and think the government is responsive to complaints about teacher misconduct. Men and women differ little in their perceptions of government performance on education, and overwhelmingly say boys and girls have equal opportunities to get an education.

Thomas Isbell

Post-doctoral research fellow and research assistant at Afrobarometer

Dominique Dryding

Dominique is the capacity building manager