Research has shown several positive effects of decentralization on schools and education, such as:
Resources collection at the local level.
Classroom construction and equipment.
Pupils recruitment (particularly of girls).
Monitoring of pupils attendance and results.
Provision of textbooks and didactic materials.
Community involvement in teachers hiring, salary and housing.
Decentralization reinforces schools appropriation by local communities and stimulates the dialogue on multigrade education, at the same time it increases the relevance of school learning by taking in consideration specific local needs. Multigrade teaching lends itself to that situation. This teaching method has a considerable success in terms of underprivileged childrens access to primary education .
In the beginning of my stay in Zambia I cooperated with the Lusaka Province in-service team. The surface of the Lusaka Province is the same as Belgium including the four districts (Kafue, Lusaka urban, Luangwa Boma and Chongwe).Every district has well equipped resource centres and several zone centres. When we initiated a new programme, for example the Multigrade Teaching Programme, we brought together all the district education officers to the provincial resource centre of Lusaka (the coordinator of a resource centre, the inspector, the education officer) and taught them in MTG teaching.On their turn they trained all the inset providers (zone and school inset provider) in the district resource centre. The training was very practical with a lot of of concrete examples of real multigrade classroom situations.A lot of attention was paid to lesson preparations and the use of local topics.
Multigrade teaching is often associated with schools in remote area and difficult contexts often they have to deal with few resources available, given the poverty of the region in which this type of teaching is found. Multigrade teachers have, therefore, to work in a considerably negative context in terms of materials support. For four years I was involved in the Multigrade teaching project of the Teacher Education Department. Through the same system we organized workshops to train trainers to train teachers in the most remote parts of Zambia. We explained the teachers how to prepare his/her lessons for different grades and how to time table these lessons. We show the teachers how to organize the classroom and how to teach different grades. Such contexts require the employment of particular teaching methodologies and classroom administration.Since Multigrade classes are smaller and can be established more cheaply than complete schools, therefore more dispersed and thus located closer to the settlements where the children live. This means both that younger children can attend and that the time children spend travelling between school and home can be reduced.This gives them the possibility to continue to contribute to the family's economic activity, what makes attending school more acceptable and will lead to an increase of the number of children receiving education.Multigrade schools, being smaller and more dispersed, would be able to create much closer relationships with the smaller communities to which they belong .This would have a very positive effect on local attitudes and access to education.
An anecdotic story, shows the importance of previous introduction. During my stay in Central Province, I did a small research about the attendance rate of girls to multigrade schools. I made several visits to families, some of them were sending their children to MTG schools, others preferred not to attend for several reasons. During my visits I was accompanied by a local chief (female).We explained the Multigrade system and the need of the involvement of the parents and the local community. We also explain the importance of girls education. Afterwards we were invited at the chiefs Palace to inform him about our experiences and the opinions of the local communities .
The professional teacher is a key elelement in the Multigrade context. The local content is a significant part of the curriculum, it is particularly important to resolve the issue of appointing well-trained and locally-oriented multigrade teachers. Zambia is doing a lot to get a structure in the
whole education system, during the last three years also a lot of efforts were made concerning capacity building in planning and management of education. I can only applaud these efforts, but there is still a long way to go.The biggest challenge is how to motivate a teacher who only has an average salary of 35 US. Teachers are also demoralised because they have almost no teaching equipments, text books are missing, sometimes there is no chalk, classes are too small for too many kids... Most of the teachers teach different sessions, from morning to mid noon and afternoon session, some of them start their day at 7 and finish around 16 oclock without time for lunch or dinner.
But the Zambian government is on the right track, they try to change the situation but every change is
so very slow. The period between the approval of a new law and the application of it is very long, often a complete school term passes. Lately too many programmes were distributed through the in-service system so many teachers lose interest and pay more attention to their second job outside the school. (Keeping a shop, selling newspapers, working in a bar) When teachers are not motivated ,it is hard to motivate their pupils. I am sure the situation will change if the government keeps on doing the efforts. When you get a diploma as teacher your salary will automatically change. Teachers who teach more then one class will get allowances. The government is distributing text books at a high rate. (Each province received a truck to distribute the books). Every pupil will receive an education kit and schools will receive extra funding from the Ministry to buy pedagogical and didactical instrument. One of the priorities is also the building of multigrade schools, to get more children into the schools you need more schools. By involving the community you can partly solve that problem. A lot of parents started building multigrade community schools in their local environment. Local chiefs are holding campaigns to get/keep more girls in school. Workshops must become more practical then theoretical so the improvement of the education level will rise faster. We need qualified teachers who can teach good lessons thanks to a well prepared lesson plan. The government should support the organization of meetings and workshops and so improve the teaching conditions and come to a better classroom practice. Only this way they can achieve mentality change of the teachers, they must starting believing in them selves. Following this recommendations Zambian teachers will be motivated to stay in Zambia.