Mansa, Zambia—Samuel Kanshanda is a familiar face around Mabumba Primary School in Luapula Province. He chats frequently with the head teacher and parents about the performance of learners and spearheads plans for school improvement.

But Samuel is not a teacher and does not have any children at this school. Nonetheless, as Chair of the Mabumba School Community Partnership Committee, his commitment to improving the school and providing a high quality education for his community’s children is robust.

The School Community Partnership Committee “is going to be here forever,” he says. “We are eager to work to make sure the school goes up. Heaven is not the limit.”

Samuel Kanshanda (back row, far left) stands with fellow members of the Mabumba School Community Partnership Committee outside the reading shelter they helped to build. Photo by Jillian Slutzker.

The committee Kanshanda leads is part of a “whole school, whole teacher, whole learner” approach to improve learning, teaching, school management, parental and community support and responsiveness to a child’s psychosocial needs across more than 1,200 primary schools in six Zambian provinces.

“We are eager to work to make sure the school goes up. Heaven is not the limit." Samuel Kanshanda, Chair of the Mabumba School Community Partnership Committee

Called Read to Succeed, the five-year project aims to improve reading among learners in grades 1 to 4 in their local Zambian languages. The project is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and implemented by Creative Associates International.

Support from parents and community members like Kanshanda is a critical to the project’s success.

Across Zambia, the project has formed 1, 224 School Community Partnership Committees that facilitate collaboration among school staff and community members to develop learner performance improvement plans, conduct outreach to neighbors to keep kids in school and lead school improvement projects.

Click here to see videos and stories from the special report, “Zambia: Turning the page for better schools.”

Making education a community matter

The project engages parents to support their children’s learning at home and invites them to classes to observe effective techniques that boost learning. Photo by David Snyder.

According to a midline survey report released in 2015, teachers have reported “that more parents and members of the community are increasingly engaged in learning activities, thereby enforcing a culture of accountability.”

Teachers invite parents to class to see for themselves the literacy techniques used in the classroom, so they can support their children’s learning at home. Learner assessment data is also shared with the committee so they can support and monitor learner performance improvement plans at the school.

“It is very important for parents to be involved because we are the custodians of the children and if the child develops, the country will develop and change. A child is an asset, and we never know if he will become a leader,” says Raphael Mulamba, head of the Mabumba School’s Parent Teacher Association, which works hand-in-hand with the School Community Partnership Committee.

In fact, since the USAID Read to Succeed project began in 2012, Parent Teacher Associations across the six provinces have increased the proportion of their discussions concerning actual teaching and learning quality from 20.4 percent in 2012 to 57.9 percent in 2014, according to the midline survey.

“This represents a growing appreciation for the value that parents place on learner performance,” states the report.

Reversing dropout by reaching families

In Kanshanda’s village and across rural Zambia, student absenteeism runs high. By the end of primary school, around 44 percent of Zambian students will have dropped out, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

Early marriages, teen pregnancy and economic pressures to work and support family income are among the top reasons students leave the classroom.

“We have a number of pupils who would be out of school if it weren’t for the School Community Partnership Committee.” Joyce Kaluba, member of the Mulundu School Community Partnership Committee

Through outreach to their neighbors, School Community Partnership Committee members are helping to reduce these numbers and convince parents to send these children back to school.

“What we do is if we identify a child who is about to leave school, we go to the parents and tell them about the importance of school and that children are our future leaders,” explains Laurent Mumba, a member of the School Community Partnership Committee at Mulundu Primary School in the Mwense District of Luapula Province.

Mumba also encourages more parents to get involved in supporting their children’s education by taking a more active role in following their progress, assisting them with homework and attending events and meetings at the school.

The 15-member committee is dedicated to reaching as many out-of-school children and their families as possible and giving every child in their area the opportunity to learn.

Their efforts have visible results. More desks are now filled at Mulundu Primary School and more young Zambians are gaining literacy skills.

“We have a number of pupils who would be out of school if it weren’t for the School Community Partnership Committee,” says committee member Joyce Kaluba.

Small grants & community commitment boost learning

Through small grants, community members have helped construct reading shelters and reading stations, like this one at Mulundu Primary School, where children practice their skills and enjoy books outside the classroom. Photo by Jillian Slutzker.

With an abundance of community commitment and a small injection of resources, School Community Partnership Committees and school staff have made remarkable improvements to support student learning.

The USAID Read to Succeed project has issued more than $675, 000 in learner performance improvement grants to 1, 224 schools across Zambia through the Ministry of General Education. Parents and community members work together with teachers and school administrators to develop plans for the grants for innovations that will support learning at the school.

At Mulundu Primary School, a 2013 project grant was invested in reading materials and “talking walls”—a technique to post signs and stories all around school, including on trees, so students can always find something to read.

The Mabumba Primary School used grant funds to hold student reading competitions, relying on community members for additional support. The best readers earned school supplies as prizes, purchased with the grant. The community and school are also jointly constructing a reading shelter where learners can sit and enjoy stories outside of class, using grant funds and resources provided by the community.

In other schools, teachers have used the funds to produce their own books, and many parents have pitched in to write and produce their own stories for the students.

“We could see the innovativeness in the head teachers,” says Charles Mupeta, Provincial Resource Center Coordinator for Luapula. “They have put the grants to good use for the benefit of the learners.”

As communities begin to see the payoffs from their investments of time and resources in the form of climbing reading levels among their children, their engagement in the schools is growing.

Reading shelter at Kasonge Primary School in Luapula Province. Photo by Jillian Slutzker.

In Luapula’s Chipili District, like in other districts across the province and across the country, education officials are taking note of this increased community engagement and what it means for the quality of education.

“That support is very vivid from the community,” says Charles Kabaso, District Education Board Secretary for the Chipili District. “That support is coming because of what they have seen from their children. Children who could never read and write are now able.”

With reporting by Nephas Hindamu