At the bottom of the barrel is usually the rural government basic schools. While the teachers are well-paid compared to their peers at the community schools, the classrooms are over-crowded (40-60 kids for one teacher) and undersupplied. As far as we can see, unless the student is very bright, dedicated and self motivated or has major help at home, they have little chance of getting anything from their education. We know 5th graders who can's speak english (although it's really the primary language in Zambia and is taught every day in class.) We know 3rd graders who can't write their own names. And the students need to pay to go to these schools - they pay school fees of around $40-60 a year, uniforms and school shoes are another $15-20, plus pencils and paper and exam fees and special fees. So a government school can cost around $100 a year per student. Now when you take into account that $100 is the average monthly wage of a full-time contract worker, a single parent with 6 kids (not unusual) would spend half a year's salary for this education for her kids. Which is why we have kids at our gate day and night asking for money for school fees or school shoes (many teachers don't allow children without appropriate school shoes to come to class). Deciding who we help and how we can help them is an almost daily quandary. If you want to specifically give money for one of the many kids we regularly help then email me for more info!
Next we have the private community schools, the prices vary greatly as do their educational standards and mission. Many are church-run schools that see the basic mathematical fact that parents in the compounds can't afford to send their kids to government schools, so churches open small schools with lower fees, no uniform requirements, etc. One of our favorite APC pastor graduates has a school that follows this model. His desire is to make sure kids can read and write so that they can understand the Bible. He's awesome! The next tier are private community schools with higher school fees, expensive uniforms, smaller class sizes and better teaching. This is the type of school where we currently send Ethel. The class size is about 22. And they seem to be trying to provide something much better than government schools. But here's the breakdown... School fees run about $500 a year, add exam fees, uniforms and supplies and it's easily $800 a year per child. So what do you get? Ethel's second grade class is packed into a closet sized space. Right now in October, it's about 95 inside by 10am. For computer science they draw a picture of a computer on the chalk board! The teaching is random at best, skipping from basic addition to long division and back to subtraction in a week - never finishing a single idea, never making sure everyone gets it before moving on, but always moving ahead and around. Most of her homework is unexplained and requires us to figure it out, teach it and then help her through it. Which might not be so bad except class goes from 7:30-3:30 leaving little extra time for tutoring between dinner and baths and bedtimes. At least twice a week we decide to take her out of that school but then decide that we just don't really have a better option right now. And she LOVES it. But I don't think we could ever send Lucas there since he'd be the only mzungu and would struggle with the attention and trouble he'd get into because of it.
Even if we liked Ethel's school enough to send all three kids there, the price per year would require a bump in our budget to pay the $200 a month. But if we wanted them to get a real education at one of the three real college-prep type of schools here, the costs are astounding, actually so astounding that it takes my breath away. If we wanted them to go to the British International School here, it would be about $2,000 a month for all three kids (not including the $3000 enrollment fee) Baobab College is similar in pricing and quality. To send one kid to the American School of Lusaka costs $13,600 a year. So for our three kids it would be $3,400 a month. Or $40,800 a year! A year! That's more than twice our salary!!
So what can we do? Homeschool or noschool? This is not a pity party, these are just the facts. Folks are always asking us about our intentions for the kids, both Americans and Zambians. We know families that have simply left the field for lack of options and it's our biggest concern in looking ahead to the future here. Trying to raise an additional $2000-$3000 a month for school seems ridiculous, and improbable. Unfortunately, we're really just not confident that we can homeschool all three kids after they finish these early years. So what can we do?
Since this is one of our major concerns in staying on the field, would you please pray with us for wisdom in this area? Also, we have considered recruiting another missionary to serve as a teacher here. We will soon be posting another blog about this possibility. But in the meantime, will you also be praying specifically that if it is God's will that he would bring forward possible missionary teachers to serve here with ACTION Zambia?