Appreciative Inquiry in Action: Identifying What Works in Zambia's Schools

Primary level students in a rural Zambian community school (c/o Zachariah Falconer-Stout)
September 29, 2015

Written in collaboration with Lyn A. Messner, Associate Director, Technical Assistance & Evaluation

The USAID Education Strategy approaches education as both foundational to human development and critically linked to economic growth and democratic governance. Education raises individual incomes and improves health outcomes. Access to education is a crucial precondition to educational impact, but what matters most thereafter is the quality of education. Recognizing these important links to other powerful drivers of development, EnCompass has recently developed a number of resources focused on practical solutions and innovative approaches in education that empower girls and boys to create a better future in all countries.  Highlights include a global toolkit for integrating GBV prevention and response in the education context, as well as four case studies examining specific success factors that are important within the Zambian school system.

The Time to Learn Case Study Series explores many global education priorities to provide decision-makers in Zambia with tangible best practices that are “homegrown” and thus suitable for the local context. Community schools educate an estimated 20% of the primary school learners in Zambia and have been a key component of the country’s near-achievement of the universal primary education Millennium Development Goal. These schools are the most under-resourced in the country, primarily staffed with untrained teachers working on a voluntary basis.

Zambian community schools are founded and managed by parent committees, meaning community engagement plays a pivotal role in these schools’ quality. To understand community school functioning better, EnCompass’ first study in this series explored why and how Parent Community School Committee activity is a significant predictor of grade 2 learner performance. An expanded peer-reviewed version of this study was published in the Southern African Review of Education that contextualizes findings within the recent global research on school-based management, decentralization, and parental engagement programs. A second study examined factors that contribute to positive working relationships between government teachers deployed to work in community schools and the broader school community. The lessons learned from these appreciative studies offer insights for the Ministry of Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Education into best practices for supporting parent committees and deploying government of teachers, two pillars of the Zambian community school system.

Girls’ education is a specific priority for the US government, as articulated in the USAID Gender Equality and Female Empowerment policy and the USAID Education Strategy. The latter specifically calls for gender integration into all education projects. To further girls’ access, retention, and achievement, the third study researched factors that enable girls in some schools to perform higher than the national average on Grade 7 exams. Because community schools where girls perform above average also feature strong performance by boys, the best practices identified by this case study have the potential to benefit all learners. In the final case study, EnCompass examined secondary school retention by identifying key factors that create an environment conducive to girls returning to school following maternity leave. These case studies offer lessons to help the Zambian government and its partners increase girls’ academic performance and reentry rate, thereby improving the prospects for all Zambian girls to fulfill their right to education.

From the role of parent committees in achieving school quality to strategies for helping girls to thrive, this series highlights EnCompass’ ongoing engagement in a range of contemporary education issues and our commitment to finding locally-appropriate solutions. By giving local contextual meaning to global issues, this series is helping translate policy and theory into practical guidance.

About Time to Learn

EnCompass is the research and evaluation partner on the USAID Time to Learn project that works with the Zambian Ministry of Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Education to improve literacy outcomes in community primary schools and increase access to secondary education for orphans and other vulnerable children. Click here to learn more about the Time to Learn project.

Photo c/o Zachariah Falconer-Stout

Comments

Tessie Catsambas

I am really impressed at the excellent integration of appreciative inquiry/qualitative methods to inform the impact evaluation conduct in parallel. This is an excellent application of mixed methods to maximize learning and improved implementation. Thank you Zambia EnCompass and EDC Team!

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About the Author

Zachariah Falconer-Stout supports EnCompass’ evaluation work, with an emphasis on quantitative...

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