written by Sian Jones
In order to graduate from Shine Zambia Reading Academy pupils must be able to read and write and pass exams at Zambian grade 4 level in English, Mathematics, Science, Social Development Studies, and Chinyanja (one of the local languages). Shine then finds them a place in grade 5 or 6 at a government or community school and sponsors them until they have completed grade 7.
One graduate had brought us her results from the previous term at her new school – and they are fantastic! (You can see her scanned report form at the end of this post).
We decided that it would be nice to interview her, so we held an interview between the school manager and the pupil, Diana Zulu. I have transcribed it below for you to read now.
Diana is a typical pupil at Shine Zambia Reading Academy. She came to us with some previous education (although many of our pupils have not had access to any education before), but as you will see in her interview, she wasn’t able to learn anything in school because she couldn’t read. This is a very common problem in Zambian schools, especially in community schools in poor, overcrowded compounds, where you will find between 60 and 120 children in a class. This is the reason why Vineet founded the charity Shine and built Shine Zambia Reading Academy.
All of our pupils are single or double orphans (they have lost one or both parents) and/or are deemed to be vulnerable. Most live in overcrowded houses where there isn’t enough food to go around. Some of our pupils started their education, but then had to drop out because there was no one who could afford to pay their school fees.
Basic education is meant to be free in Zambia, but there are not enough government schools, and community schools are not free. In Kalikiliki, the shanty compound where Shine Zambia Reading Academy is situated, there are around 40,000 people but no government schools. Some of our pupils, like Diana, reach the age of 12 without ever being taught how to read or write.
Before you read the interview below, I would like to mention that Diana knew little English before she started at Shine Zambia. Also, note that Zambia has more than 70 different languages, and although English is the official language used in schools, it is not the first language of any of our pupils or teachers. You will see below mistakes in the use of English that are commonly made across Zambia, even among highly educated individuals, and also just different uses of English that we barely even notice anymore. You will particularly notice that the tense is often incorrect. I have put translations in brackets occasionally so that you will find it easier to understand what Diana is trying to say.
Mr Alfred Banda: What is your name and how old are you?
Diana Zulu: I’m Diana Zulu. I’m 14 years old.
Mr Alfred Banda: Where do you live?
Diana Zulu: I live in Mutendere East, Valley View (the neighbouring compound to Kalikiliki)
Mr Alfred Banda: Who do you live with?
Diana Zulu: I live with my aunt.
Mr Alfred Banda: How many people live in your house?
Diana Zulu: At my mother’s place we live 6 in a 2 roomed house but with my aunt we just live the 2 of us, me and my aunt. (a 2 roomed house literally means 2 rooms, not 2 bedrooms)
Mr Alfred Banda: When did you first come to Shine Zambia Reading Academy?
Diana Zulu: I came in 2010, in January.
Mr Alfred Banda: Did you go to school before attending Shine Zambia?
Diana Zulu: Yes, I was doing my grade 7. I was in grade 7 but I was just a passenger in the classroom. I don’t (didn’t) know how to read, how to write. Sometimes our teacher came into the classroom and wrote some notes on the blackboard. I just copied the notes but I didn’t understand what that notes means.
Mr Alfred Banda: So in other words, you are saying you could not read and write when you started at Shine Zambia?
Diana Zulu: Yes.
Mr Alfred Banda: How about now? Are you able to read?
Diana Zulu: Yes! I’m able to read and write.
Mr Alfred Banda: Did you have to pay anything at Shine Zambia?
Diana Zulu: No! Shine Zambia is a free education and they do give us food to eat. Sometimes we came from our homes with an empty stomach. We came at Shine Zambia (we come to Shine Zambia), after learning then we go to the kitchen and eat porridge.
Mr Alfred Banda: Which school are you at now and in which grade?
Diana Zulu: I’m at (a local basic school). I’m doing my grade 6.
Mr Alfred Banda: How were your results last term?
Diana Zulu: My results were very good. I passed number one out of 68 pupils. (In Zambia pupils are always ranked in their classes after sitting exams)
Mr Alfred Banda: Great! What do you think of this school (Shine Zambia Reading Academy) and the teachers?
Diana Zulu: Wow! Shine Zambia is a very good school to me and the teachers too. They helped me how to read, how to write. I was nothing when I was coming to Shine Zambia (when I first came to Shine Zambia). I was blank. I didn’t know how to read, how to write. But when I got to my new school (after graduating from Shine) they even get surprised of me. “Wow, did you go to any other school?” Cos when the teacher is teaching in front, only me, if she asks a question “what is so, so, so, so…” then I get up my hand and say the answer, so she got surprised all the time.
I really appreciate all what Shine Zambia’s doing, and the teachers too – they are very hard working. Also Mr Vineet [founder of Shine], who helped me how to read, I really appreciate. May God bless him.
We are delighted that Diana is doing so well in school now. Although the Shine programme is intended to last 2 years, Diana graduated after just 1 year! She is a very bright girl, and just needed someone to teach her how to read. Now she is certainly shining brightly back in a Zambian school with her peers.
We can’t change the problems in the Zambian education system of the overcrowded classrooms, the overloaded teachers and the lack of teaching resources that result in many pupils progressing through school unable to learn because no one has taught them how to read.
But we can teach them how to read, write and understand basic numeracy so that when they go back into the Zambian school system they have a chance to access the education being provided.
We can bring hope to a community that doesn’t have a government basic school and can’t afford to send its children to the overcrowded fee paying community schools.
We can teach the children whose parents have died or are illiterate how to read, because if we don’t, who else will?