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Zambia is a small and desperately impoverished country in sub-Saharan Africa, just south of the Congo basin. For most of its modern history, it has been awash in conflict, corruption, and violence, to say nothing of devastating drought and the effects of the AIDS epidemic. After decades of stagnation under an inept socialist government and the lingering effects of colonization under the British, the Zambian economy collapsed after the fall of the socialist regime in 1991. The main cause of the crisis was a sudden drop in copper prices - ever since the colonial period, Zambia has been heavily dependent on copper mining, and the decline in prices had a devastating effect on GDP and employment. Fortunately, the tide began to shift in the year 2000, and Zambia has enjoyed a reasonable rate of growth ever since.
It remains to be seen whether hopeful economic indicators work translates into improvements in education, but at the moment the situation appears grim. At 1.3% of GDP, Zambia's rate of proportional spending on education is one of the lowest in the world. Since the country's per-capita GDP is among the world's lowest to begin with (167 593 countries, according to the CIA World Factbook), this leads to a drastic lack of funding for Zambia's schools. Primary and secondary schools are massively understaffed, and instructors are sometimes not qualified to teach their subjects. This problem is exacerbated by the steady loss of qualified teachers to opportunities elsewhere. Known as brain-drain, this well-documented phenomenon occurs in many developing nations – well-trained and motivated citizens beat the odds and make their way through school, and then make the unfortunate (although perfectly understandable) choice to seek employment in other countries rather than returning to their local communities to teach.
The government of Zambia attempts to provide free education for a full 9 years of typical primary and secondary education, but is able to do so only for years1 through 7. After the 7th year of schooling, fees are required and this, along with the need to work and support the family, leads huge numbers of students to drop out of school prematurely. According to UNESCO estimates, as few as 80% of school-age children are actually enrolled.
Since relatively few people in Zambia ever finish high school, it is not surprising that opportunities for postsecondary education are limited. There are 6 universities in various places throughout the country, and for the most part they manage to offer a reasonable standard of instruction despite a lack of funds, staff, equipment, and demand. The most reputable degrees in Zambia are in the fields of nursing and, in some places, Christian theology.
The most hopeful sign of improvement in the education sector in Zambia is the work of foreign governments and NGOs. While some have adopted an outdated “missionary” approach that fails to take account of the nuances of local culture and history, the more effective organizations coordinate with Zambian authorities and local experts in order to streamline their work and ensure its effectiveness. Cooperation between local actors and international organizations enables aid workers to gather reliable information about the situation on the ground, discern the needs of the Zambian people, and develop fact-based strategies for action.