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A policy shift on Zambia’s School Calendar: Balancing Education and Climate Realities

 By Bernadette Deka Zulu (PhD Researcher)

Founder: Shaping Futures Zambia

Introduction:

Recently, Zambia, through the Ministry of Education has undertaken reforms in the 2023 Zambia Education Curriculum Framework with Structural Adjustments resulting in the new education system. Instead of “Grades,” learners now progress through “Forms,” and school certificate examinations occur at the end of Form Four.Automatic progression from primary to secondary school has been abolished, along with junior secondary school examinations.

While the above changes to the curriculum may be appreciated, there is need to look into the more pressing, critical and challenging situation at hand, which is the problem of fast climate change and the need to adopt a new school calendar as an immediate response to climate action of adaptation.

Zambia, like many other countries, is experiencing the real effects of climate change.

Winters are becoming colder, catching communities off guard. In the coolest period; mid-May to mid-August, temperatures can now drop significantly and in some parts of the country, recording beyond 0 °C.

The real challenge is that in Zambia, houses and schools are not built with proper insulation let alone, there are no heating systems.

Thus, we are facing a unique challenge and that is how to balance education and the well-being of its learners, especially the young ones during the cold season.

Vulnerability to Climate Change:

As Zambia is experiencing this fast and silent climate crisis, a large sum of the population faces severe food shortages, including an estimated over 821,000 children. As a country, Zambia has just experienced a severe drought.

Therefore, a child can not be faced with double tragedy for double trauma; hunger and the cold.

Cold months and Classroom Challenges:

Currently, children/learners in Zambia attend school throughout the coldest months. However, many classrooms lack adequate heating, leaving students shivering and distracted during lessons.

Other children have to walk from far places to school, covering distances as far stretched as 10 miles or more. Sadly, such learners are in the majority in Zambia.

As temperatures drop the way they do these days, children struggle to focus on learning, leading to missing classes and reduced learning outcomes.

There are many reasons why children would miss classes in the cold season, especially in a country like Zambia, and perhaps Malawi.

Parents & Children’s Plea for Change:

This time, not only parents are calling for change in the school calendar, children are calling for an immediate consideration to adjustment of the school calendar as they propose closing schools during the winter months of June and July, allowing them to stay at home where they have a better chance of keeping warm.

Impact on School-Going Children

Challenges in Schools: The impact of cold weather on learning outcomes is significant, affecting both academic performance and attendance.

And as witnessed in the last cold season, when temperatures drop, children find it increasingly difficult to concentrate in classrooms which lack heating facilities.

Missed Classes and reduced learning outcomes

Health Risks:

Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures can have adverse effects on children’s health.Risks include hypothermia, frostbite, and respiratory illnesses.Children may struggle to focus on studies when they are physically uncomfortable due to the cold.

Educational Reforms and Adaptation:

While the current curriculum doesn’t directly address cold weather, educational reforms can play a role.Schools can raise awareness among students and parents about dressing warmly during winter.Infrastructure improvements, such as better insulation and heating systems, can enhance classroom comfort.

Balancing Education and Well-Being:

By aligning the school calendar with climate realities, Zambia can ensure that children’s right to education is not compromised.

There is need to support these young advocates as they strive for a warmer, more conducive learning environment!

The goal is to  empower children to thrive in education regardless of the weather outside

Health and Well-Being:

Keeping children warm is not just about comfort; it’s essential for their health. Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures can lead to hypothermia, frostbite, and respiratory illnesses.

A conducive learning environment requires physical well-being.

Awareness/Community Engagement:

At this point, in order to respond to climate action of adaptation, government and organizations need to step up and begin serious education on learners and parents about dressing warmly during colder months. Involve parents, teachers, and local leaders in ensuring children stay warm at home.

Conclusion/Balancing Education and Climate Realities:

There is no other way, adjusting the school calendar aligns education with climate realities. That is adaptation, that is a true response to climate action!

By closing schools during the coldest months, Zambia can ensure that children’s right to education is not compromised.It also acknowledges the changing weather patterns and the need for adaptation.

And lastly, certainly not least, the Ministry of Education must also look in building schools that have  insulation and heating systems.

(bernadettedekazulu@gmail.com)

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