By Anna Butler, Arthur Peirce, Claire Kalsbeek, & Sidney Tolo
This year, countries around the world have come together in an effort to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Travel restrictions, safety measures, medical intervention and social innovation have been key components to combating the virus globally. Our infographic below includes critical dates from the first observation of COVID-19 to specific times and statistics of its spread in Zambia. We decided to research what the impacts of the pandemic have been and share how our Modzi team on the ground is working to support our students during this difficult time.
Much of the world’s attention regarding COVID-19 has focused on Asia, Europe, and North America. Despite a lack of media coverage, life in Africa has also been deeply affected. According to the Zambian Ministry of Health, the first case of COVID-19 in Zambia was reported on the 18th of March. In realising this, the reaction of the government was swift in that just a few days later, they announced that schools nationwide would be forced to close. Many countries have reacted or even continue to react this way in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. In Zambia, with national benchmark exams in mind, some schools and classes in Zambia did reopen for certain students on June 1st, but this decision was controversial. Given health and safety as well as educational concerns, it has remained controversial as only some grades have been permitted to return to classes while others remain out of school.
A lot of weight is put on national benchmark exams in Zambia, which require students in grades 7, 9, and 12 to test in December of each year. The results of these examinations determine which school a student will be able to attend for the next level of their studies. And for this reason, these grades were permitted to return to class after about a month of disruption due to COVID-19. Despite this unexpected disruption to their education, their schooling has managed to continue through this ongoing pandemic. These students are back in school and as it stands, the Ministry of Education is still planning to hold national examinations at the end of this year. COVID-19 has put extra pressure on an already stressful year for students planning to write their final exams.
It is estimated that the closure of schools has impacted over four million children in Zambia. Academic disruption of such scale has had an especially adverse effect on Zambian students, who already experience massive barriers to accessing education. COVID-19 has interrupted daily schooling as well as examination preparation, which directly impacts the educational futures of already marginalized youth. The absence of regular classes these days has put children in Zambia at risk of further marginalization. This then adds to the ongoing challenge of keeping children engaged in the classroom and supporting their right to an education. To that end, it is crucial we provide effective and accessible means of educating our youth during this pandemic, despite widespread school closures.
Zambia has a long tradition of using radio and television to spread educational information, so in theory, this existing system could now be used to support supplementary learning during challenging times. Aaron Chansa, the Executive Director of Action for Quality Education in Zambia called recent services “discriminatory” as the number of households who can in fact access them is low. In addition to the barrier of network subscription costs, regular viewing is also made difficult by large scale power shortages across the country. Reliable internet also remains a challenge for most. Because of these factors, most children who are out of school due to the pandemic are struggling to access safe learning opportunities.
The impact of COVID-19 related school closures continues to have quite a significant impact in Zambia, which has an unusually large population of young people. It is of note that Zambia has the 6th youngest median age (16.8 years) in the world, with 70% of people under 35 years of age, and 50% under 15. Therefore, when we are talking about children of school age in Zambia, we are likely talking about the majority of the country’s population. As mentioned in our previous post, Zambia already had a high drop-out rate for secondary school students prior to the pandemic. The number of children we are seeing out of school today is only being further exacerbated by COVID-19. In other words, the impact of these arguably necessary school closures will prove to be detrimental to Zambian education. It is also important to note that the Zambian government is aware of such challenges and as such has released a contingency plan stating:
Modzi has been working to address barriers to accessing quality education in Zambia for years. As we have recently felt the impact of COVID-19, we are now working to enhance our programing and offer additional supports for our students during this pandemic. And as our students are currently enrolled in various levels of schooling, our responses continue to be tailored to each one's specific needs. For example, we are supporting students who will be writing exams this year by providing them with supplemental materials and individualized tutoring after school. Though our non-writing year students have been out of formal classes since March, we have been facilitating opportunities for them to engage with various nonformal learning opportunities. Throughout this pandemic, our students have also participated in educational talks about the prevention of COVID-19 and formed a better understanding of hygiene and sanitation in general.
This global pandemic has caused uncertainty for children both in and out of school. As a result, modzi has been working to create unique opportunities including additional preparatory time at boarding school and peer mentoring sessions with Modzi graduate students. Students have also been offered safe spaces to learn through Modzi sport, music, art, and environmental activities during this trying time. Our Modzi family values all forms of education and recognizes great potential for students in Zambia to continue learning through innovative, holistic education.
Information Sourced From:
By Arthur Peirce & Claire Kalsbeek
In some ways, the education system in Zambia could be considered quite comprehensive. At a glance, by the time a student has graduated from university in Zambia, they will have experienced seven years of primary schooling, five years of secondary education, and a four-year undergraduate degree. Though this may sound ideal, very few students actually manage to obtain this level of formal education.
Zambia belongs to both the African Charter of Human Rights and the UN's Convention of the Rights of the Child. Both internationally recognized treaties affirm that education is a right for all children. Though it has been agreed that equal opportunity should be offered, we still observe that a lack of accessibility to formal schooling very much exists in Zambia. To understand the complexity of this issue we must first consider some statistics about enrollment rates, gender equality and accessibility.
At the moment, Zambia has a primary school enrollment rate of 87.9% (UNICEF). However, for many children in Zambia, this is where education ends, as the enrollment rate for secondary school falls sharply, with only 42.9% of children successfully enrolling. According to the World Bank, the gross enrollment rate for tertiary education stands at 4% (2012).
Many children in Zambia, through no fault of their own, have to confront a series of socio-economic barriers which make continuing their educational journey difficult or even impossible. For example, many families frankly aren’t able to financially afford the costs of schooling. In rural areas, with no easy method of transportation, simply getting to school can be extremely difficult. Some children might experience challenging home lives, or may have responsibilities that prevent them from regular schooling.
By Zambian law and its commitment to the right to education, both male and female students should have equal access to education. The unfortunate reality is that there remains a substantial gender gap in the classroom. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) the literacy rate of males aged 15 or older stood at 90%, whereas for females, the number dropped to 83%. While the percentage for both genders is low, girls experience additional barriers including issues like teen pregnancies, early marriage and in some areas the lack of importance placed on female education.
The aforementioned issues are, of course, exacerbated for homeless, orphaned, or displaced children who are 2.1 times more likely to report low life satisfaction in Zambia. Another statistic that displays the disparity marginalized children are facing is that they are 14.4 times less likely to achieve the baseline level of mathematics proficiency compared to their peers. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) figures, only 5% of graduating students achieve the minimum level of proficiency at reading and just 2% in mathematics. Statistics like these are irrefutable and show that the gaps in the Zambian education system exist, and there is much work to be done.
Modzi works to provide academic scholarship and unique mentorship opportunities for children coming from severely impoverished backgrounds and ultimately facilitate their access to quality education. We advocate for those who have been neglected and who are struggling not for lack of ability, but for lack of opportunity. Our modzi method has three main focuses differentiating our model for student success as it’s individualized, holistic and sustainable. We tailor our programs to each student’s needs in order to best support their inspiring potential. And we strongly believe that change starts with one.
Information Sourced From:
by Elena Crouch
Not once in my childhood did I even THINK about not finishing primary school. My parents didn’t have to choose whether my sister or I would be the daughter able to attend secondary school. It didn’t matter how much money my family had or didn’t have; it didn’t matter that my sister and I were both female. We were both supposed to go to school, so we both did. Not once growing up was I truly thankful for the opportunity to attend school. Attending school was more of an obligation, a given. Sure I liked it sometimes, but my appreciation for it grew as I did.
Other kids around the world aren’t so lucky. Globally, education systems are flawed, but especially so when looking through the lens of girls education. According to UNESCO, there are more than 774 million illiterate adults in our world and a staggering two-thirds of them are female. This disparity has remained consistent for the past 20 years, and given that 76 million of the 123 million illiterate youth today are girls, it’s a disparity that isn’t going away anytime soon. With less than 40% of countries providing equal access to primary education for both boys and girls, and less than 39% of countries providing equal opportunities for secondary education, illiteracy and poverty rates around the globe continue to paint a harsh reality.
The truth of the matter is, if we want to “fix poverty” and live in a more equal and developed world, and if economies are to continue to grow, we have to educate women. A lack of female education means poorer public health and sanitation, lower standards of living, higher infant mortality rates, and so much more. A child is 50% more likely to survive past the age of five if they’re born to a mother who can read, and each extra year of schooling that their mother receives reduces the likelihood of infant mortality by 5-10%. We can’t deny it—educating women raises people out of poverty. So we’ve acknowledged this dilemma, but how can we now help change it?
Earlier last year, I was lucky enough to stumble upon modzi. modzi (mode·zhē) is a non-profit organization that mentors vulnerable youth in Zambia and facilitates their access to quality education. Through Northeastern University’s Cooperative Education (Co-Op) Program, I had the opportunity to become involved in modzi’s important work. I was able to visit Zambia this past January and work directly with modzi’s founders. I was able to see firsthand just how unique and personalized their programs are, help prepare modzi students for the start of a new school year, and collect media in preparation of future projects. For me, one of the most exciting things that solidified my decision to join the modzi team in Zambia was the organization’s plans to formally launch a girls education program this year.
When modzi originated, its programs worked predominantly with young boys in Zambia. This was due in part to existing relationships in the community, as well as the fact that it is generally less expensive and logistically easier than sending girls to school with adequate supports. As modzi continues to grow, we are expanding and creating new partnerships to mentor more girls through their schooling. But still you’re wondering, why is it so much harder to send girls to school than boys? Allow me to elaborate.
In many countries, education isn’t free. Specifically in Zambia, primary education is funded by the government but secondary school is not. In addition to the costs of formal education, gender norms and societal stigma pose challenges in Zambia and many other countries with similar poverty levels. Women are expected to stay home and take care of the house and their contributions to cooking and cleaning are too valuable to be left undone if they were to attend school. Child marriages and early pregnancy are additional obstacles that plague young girls who theoretically should be attending school. These are just a few of the reasons that boys’ education is often prioritized to girls’ education, but modzi is looking to offset that disparity.
The girls that modzi is sending to school have done nothing to warrant such marginalization. They didn’t ask to be born into poverty, to be abused, neglected, homeless. These girls are victims of circumstance and that more than anything has shown me that life really can be unfair. More unfair than your sibling getting to sit in the front seat or eating the last chocolate cupcake. I’m so excited that modzi is launching this girls program and even more excited that I get to be a part of it! The girls that we will be sending to school are arguably the hardest workers out there—even resorting to sitting in a bathroom stall at night in order to study without waking up others. These girls are strong, they’re smart, and they’re resilient. Why shouldn’t they be able to go to school too?
If you are interested in getting involved with modzi or would like to support our work by donating, please go to www.modzi.org to see what we’re up to!
Hi, I'm Shelbe!
I am currently pursuing a dual degree in International Affairs and Cultural Anthropology, along with a minor in Human Services at Northeastern University in Boston. Through a combination of Northeastern’s cooperative education (co-op) programs, international field studies, and study abroad opportunities, I have been more than happy to follow my studies around the world.
Last summer, I participated in a month-long Northeastern field study program in Lusaka, Zambia. Through direct service learning there I experienced some of the roles that grassroots organizations can play in international development, as well as how economic and political forces can affect organizational growth. When I was in Zambia for the first time in 2015, I was lucky enough to connect with modzi… and have been a part of the family ever since!
This past January, I returned to work in Zambia as a fulltime co-op with modzi’s on-the-ground team. While in country for several months, I focused on strengthening existing community partnerships and collaborating on new modzi projects. Though my co-op with modzi technically ended by May, I remained on the continent to study abroad at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in South Africa. At UCT I took classes with focus on poverty, development, and community engagement – all of which I found to be extremely relevant to the work I do with modzi.
I have just recently returned to the USA from eight months of living abroad, and am eager to continue with my studies in Boston. This semester I am taking classes in strategic philanthropy, non-profit management, and international conflict and negotiation. While I miss being in Lusaka with our modzi students, I continue to advocate for their successes here in the United States. I am eager to learn how I can bring the knowledge and skills that I am gaining here at school, to modzi’s work in Zambia.
I am truly honored to be a part of the modzi family, and very much look forward to continuing my work while in Boston. Be sure to keep an eye out for some exciting updates coming your way, and to keep up with the #modzimovement by following us on social media!
Hi, I'm Claire!
I’m happy to introduce myself to all of you as a proud part of the modzi family. This summer has been a busy one, and I’d love to share a bit about what I’ve been up to!
This May, I graduated from Franklin University Switzerland with a Masters Degree in International Management. A one-year program based in Lugano Switzerland, my studies focused on intercultural communication, global awareness, individual and social responsibility, and global leadership. After graduation, I headed home to Saint Louis, Missouri to spend a short summer with friends and family.
In June, modzi had our first ever Match Day, where we successfully reached our fundraising goal of $10,000! I hope everyone enjoyed the modzi media we shared during the event, because creating and collaborating with our team on it was a lot of fun. All of the planning and preparation for the fundraiser definitely kept me busy, and I am so grateful to all of our generous supporters for making the success of our event possible!
I just recently moved to Zurich, Switzerland where I have started a new job and a new phase of life. I am so happy to be living abroad, working not only on my professional development but my personal as well. I am continuing to learn and better my German language skills and have fallen in love with living in the mountains. Despite my job moving me half way across the world, Zambia is never far from my mind. My passion for educational rights, cognitive development, and international development allow me to work with modzi no matter the time zone I find myself in.
Looking forward to sharing some exciting stories, projects, and modzi movements!
While being designated a class prefect is an honorable achievement, it can at times be difficult. Some students shy away from the duty of monitoring their peers, but Mwila says that he is up for the task. “To be a prefect, it is not easy because you will be facing different challenges. People are coming from different backgrounds. You have to work hard to become a prefect, and stay one.”
Mwila’s improved marks (grades) have caught his head teacher’s eye, but his exceptional behavior has also gained him respect elsewhere. Mwila often volunteers his time with Barefeet Theatre, an organization that uses theater and performing arts to educate vulnerable youth on issues affecting children in Zambia. Mwila has recently been elected as the Financial Controller on the Barefeet Children’s Council, a position he has had his eye on for over a year. Due to his continued attendance, distinct involvement in meetings, and a clear desire to help, Mwila is now being entrusted with raising issues to the Council for discussion, creating program budgets, and distributing transport money to fellow activists. “I was very excited. I have never been this excited in my whole life. When I learned that I was elected, I jumped!”
Mwila’s apparent leadership and drive both in and out of the classroom have helped him to improve his grades, and his English. As he is currently in Grade 9, Mwila is preparing to write a national exam at the end of the year. When asked about it, he said, “I am not nervous, I am just excited and preparing.” While English and Science were once his weakest subjects, Mwila’s progress over the past year has changed his take on them. “English and Science are now my favorite subjects because they are things I always need to use. People are always speaking English. My teacher told me, whenever you become good in English things will change. I wasn’t very good in English, so I didn’t used to talk much. I would just listen. I got better at English because I never gave up, and I did my best. I used to fail Science, but my teacher told me whenever you love something, you will do it well. I love science, so now I can’t fail.”
Mwila’s persistence in academics and dedication to his extra curricular activities is exactly the type of holistic development modzi supports. Individualized mentoring of extraordinary children like Mwila creates opportunities to expand students’ interests, succeed in the classroom, and become responsible role models. Please join us in supporting these incredible children, and stay tuned for more updates on modzi students as they continue to discover their passions!
Celebrated every March 12th, this annual holiday "recognizes that youth are the future leaders." See what happened when Shelbe Van Winkle, modzi's Northeastern University co-op, asked kids in the community about this special day.
Every year, we recognize International Women’s Day - a holiday established to acknowledge women’s achievements, all over the world. Today in Zambia, schools closed and children instead attended parades, filling the streets to honor half of the world’s population. Though this day celebrates the progression of women’s rights, it also highlights the need for continued enhancement of gender equality.
While the global gender disparity gap has diminished over time, girls in every part of the world - particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa – still struggle with access to equity. Too often, young girls are refused one of their basic human rights: the right to an education.
“Girls’ education is both an intrinsic right and a critical lever to reaching other development objectives. Providing girls with an education helps break the cycle of poverty: educated women are less likely to marry early and against their will; less likely to die in childbirth; more likely to have healthy babies; and are more likely to send their children to school.”
Though advancements have been made, it will take more than an annual occasion to enact sustainable change. We, as citizens of this world, must stand together and continue empowering women everywhere. Advocating for just one eager girl’s right to an education can encourage other young girls around her to also pursue theirs, ultimately creating a ripple of change. modzi emphasizes the philosophy that providing educational opportunity to just one person can inspire that very change. Today, we celebrate International Women’s Day, and the fact that education continues to promote equal opportunity for all.
This month, several Junior Girl Scout troops from Mountainside, New Jersey joined the modzi movement! The groups participated in a modzi organized pen-pal program, which connected young girls in the United States with girls in Zambia. modzi facilitated an educational and cultural exchange by having students write individual letters to new friends abroad.
For this “Thinking Day” event, about 100 young Girl Scouts were prompted to, “connect with self, connect with community, and connect with the world.” Each child crafted a personalized letter using modzi-prompted questions about school, sports, hobbies, and friends. These letters were then sent to modzi in Zambia, to be shared with Vision of Hope, one of the organization’s in-country partners. Vision of Hope is a non-profit that provides a safe space for vulnerable girls to live and learn. Through collaboration with Girl Scout Troop #40732 and others, modzi hopes to empower young girls in both countries, and encourage them to think about the lives of their international peers.
modzi is excited for these young girls to share this unique learning opportunity. By communicating with students from a different part of the world, both groups will discover commonalities, learn from differences, develop cross-cultural communication skills, broaden perspectives, and strengthen understandings of the world around them.
The following blog post was written by Shelbe Van Winkle, a modzi Co-Op who is currently in Zambia.
Zambia. I came here this past summer for a month long field-study program with Northeastern University. Two weeks into my program and I knew I’d be back. There’s something about this place, though at the time, I don’t think I could have put a finger on exactly what. I’ve been to loads of places, lived in my fair share of countries, and learned my fair share of languages, but I’ve never returned to a place, not really. For me, I’ve always had the mentality of seeing the new. Although I loved the old, the new was foreign, unknown, and exciting. As much as I still want to experience the new, I had a feeling when I left Zambia this past summer that I hadn’t yet experienced everything, and that there was still more “new”. Since arriving here just about a month ago, the feeling that I hadn’t yet experienced everything proved itself true.
For a long time now, I’ve known that I wanted to work in the field of education. I saw an internship with modzi as the perfect opportunity for me to learn more about creating access to education in the developing world. While I saw systemic issues with education when I was first here this past summer, what I didn’t see was how to help solve those issues. That was the “new” I wanted. I wanted to learn how modzi is helping, and how I could help. Education is something everyone should have access to; the fact that kids just a few years younger than I am can’t go to school, angers me. If I can go to school, how in any way is it fair that they can’t.
“You don’t choose where you’re born.” My supervisor and modzi’s President, Anna, has been saying this since long before I arrived in Zambia, but it didn’t really resonate with me until I actually witnessed what she meant. There is a certain stigma here about living in a center (essentially an orphanage, but most kids at centers here still have some family, they just can’t afford to take care of them). Kids living in a center or living on the streets are often times just seen as that: street kids; uneducated; poor; another mouth to feed. What people are missing is that these kids didn’t choose this life; they were given it. And most of them are doing the best they can with what they were given.
educated. Just because they haven’t had the same background as others, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve their human right to education. The only difference between these kids and the people in the world I am coming from, is where they were born. These kids, these people, are trying to make the best of what they were born with, and it’s inspiring to watch such dedication and passion towards things so many people take for granted, particularly school.
After only a month, I’ve seen sadness and tears, fear and uncertainty, along with strength and perseverance, friendship and brotherhood, and mentorship in so many forms. So I guess, after a month of being back in Zambia, I’m finally understanding why I came back; while I’d seen Zambia before, Zambia wasn’t done leaving its mark on me. This country, this place, these people, continue to teach me everyday, and I have the upmost respect for them and the lessons they bring to me. Here, there always seems to be more “new” to experience.
Since its founding, modzi has collaborated with several community programs, local organizations, and academic institutions. This year, we are excited to share that some of our Grade 10 students are starting their first term at Thornhill Boarding & Day School! Thornhill School is a prestigious and academically respected private school in Lusaka, Zambia. Thornhill emphasizes the importance of child development through academic and non-academic activities, and offers students various extra-curricular activities such as sports, clubs, and educational trips. Thornhill Boarding & Day School prides itself on its well qualified and highly experienced teaching staff, excellent academic and boarding facilities, and their dedication to students’ holistic successes.
Before entering modzi’s programs, most of our students lacked access to quality education for most of their lives. After two years of diligent studying at their former Junior Secondary School, our Grade 10 students have proven their academic abilities, and discovered their individual potential. Our modzi family is incredibly excited for these boys and this new opportunity, and so proud of their achievements thus far. In establishing this new partnership with Thornhill Boarding & Day School, we are eager to see the paths that these Grade 10 students will pave for younger modzi students, who aspire to follow in their footsteps.
Mwiya Mubyana is a modzi student who continues to follow his passion for music. At 14 years old he wrote and recorded this song "Umoyo", meaning "life". In his song, Mwiya advocates for the many homeless children living on the streets in Zambia. Once faced with such adversity, Mwiya has since had the opportunity to return to school via modzi.
Mwiya is just one of millions of children who has struggled with a lack of access to quality education. Rather than lose hope, he continues to use his voice for good. "I want to reach people through my music. Children are the future.. we have to be heard."
This holiday season, we ask you to remember that many can only dream of the opportunities some are afforded everyday. We ask you to please consider supporting our efforts, and to join us in becoming a part of the modzi movement! Together, we can empower vulnerable, talented youth like Mwiya to effect positive change in their communities - change starts with one.
You can contribute to modzi's current fundraising campaign at https://www.classy.org/modzimovement and can learn more about the organization at https://www.modzi.org
This video was created by Jensen Butler. Filmed entirely in Zambia, the video features several modzi students. The song "Umoyo" was originally written by Mwiya Mubyana, and was recorded/produced by Echo Records in Lusaka, Zambia.