When President Hakainde Hichilema’s Government announced that, come 10 January 2022, education would be free for the country’s nearly 8 million children, it felt like a watershed moment to many Zambians, and a decision that would change the course of the nation’s future.
But, for many teachers around the country, the news was met with mixed feelings. At small schools like Kapila Primary – located in rural Lufwanyama District, where financial constraints frequently forced learners to drop out – a new aspect of the future now seemed uncertain. How would staff cope with the inevitable rise in enrolments, and how much support would Government realistically be able to provide?
This is a story about how Kagem Mining Limited – which is 25% owned by the Zambian Government through the Industrial Development Corporation Limited (IDC) – is supporting Government in tackling developmental challenges like access to education and, ultimately, working towards enhancing the country’s productivity, one community at a time.
“It’s very positive that Government has made education free,” says Mr Alick Nsai, Head Teacher at Kapila Primary, a small school located some 11 kilometres from Kagem emerald mine. “But there’s a mismatch between student numbers and the infrastructure that’s available in Government schools,” he adds.
As pupil numbers have grown over the years, Kapila Primary has struggled with a shortage of infrastructure. But nowhere were these shortages more obvious than in the lack of equipment and supporting infrastructure required for Computer Studies, a subject that Government hopes will play an increasingly big role in the national curriculum.
It’s a worthy (if ambitious) goal, particularly in rural parts of Zambia which have their own sets of challenges. Firstly, Government’s education budgets are already stretched, and schools like Kapila don’t receive anything close to the amount of funding to make computer labs a reality. Then, there’s the question of electricity to power a computer lab. Much of rural Lufwanyama – including Kapila Primary – isn’t connected to the state power grid.
“As pupil numbers have grown over the years, Kapila Primary has struggled with a shortage of infrastructure. But nowhere were these shortages more obvious than in the lack of equipment and supporting infrastructure required for Computer Studies.”
The solution? Building a solar-powered computer lab, funded by Gemfields Foundation (the charitable arm of Kagem’s 75% owner, Gemfields) and a new classroom block, funded by Kagem, to support Kapila Primary’s growing student numbers. The project was given the green light in consultation with stakeholders, including the local community and Ministry of Education through the District Education Board Secretary (DEBS), and is a huge step forward in Gemfields’ drive to support increased access to Information Technology in the areas that need it most.
Lufwanyama’s steps towards a digital future
Having a computer lab that runs on clean solar energy is an unprecedented development in the district, which Kagem’s Head of Corporate Responsibility, Ms Lomthunzi Mbewe, describes as “Lufwanyama’s move towards a digital future”.
The newly-constructed block, with three classrooms and a fully-equipped, solar powered computer lab – complete with high-speed internet – was handed over on 8 November 2023 at a ceremony attended by local community members, pupils, school board members, and senior members of local Zambian Government, including Lufwanyama’s District Commissioner, Council Secretary, and Educational Board Secretary.
The approximately ZMW 6.9 million ($316,000) project makes Kapila Primary School one of a handful of educational institutions in the area that can offer computer lessons to its pupils. It was funded by Kagem in partnership with the Gemfields Foundation.
“The approximately ZMW 6.9 million project – funded by Kagem in partnership with the Gemfields Foundation – makes Kapila Primary School one of a handful of educational institutions in the area that can offer computer lessons to its pupils.”
Not just a school, but a better future
One needn’t go far from Kapila Primary for more evidence of what can be achieved when Government schools and companies like Kagem work together as partners in development. The nearby Chapula Secondary school – which was entirely built and furnished by Kagem, at a cost of $1 million, and handed over to Government in October 2017– is one of the best secondary schools in the district, and has an impressively modern and well-equipped computer lab with a little over 30 desktop computers, 20 of which Gemfields Foundation donated in February 2023. The school currently offers Computer Studies up to Grade 9 level, but any of its 319 pupils – 155 of whom are girls – can attend Computer Club between or after their classes.
But Chapula is more than a school with a well-equipped computer lab, explains its Deputy Head, Ms Mundia Kayama, who also counts her own children as pupils. Chapula is the only secondary school for miles in Lufwanyama District, and it’s the reason that local children can continue their studies beyond primary level.
“When Kagem built this school, it was a huge development,” says Ms Kayama. “This area was facing a lot of challenges in terms of infrastructure for a secondary school, and the nearest one from here is about nine kilometres away,” she explains. “When pupils graduated from primary level, they had nowhere to go. Chapula Secondary was a lifesaver for this community.”
It was a “lifesaver” for girls, in particular, Ms Kayama explains. “When [female] pupils can’t study beyond grade seven, they inevitably get married off. Before Chapula was built, there was no further education available for them because of the distance, so you saw under-age [female] children of around 11, 12 or 13 years old getting into marriages. Having a secondary school was a huge relief for this community and it brought about an improvement in enrolment, which was very low in the area before.”
“But Chapula is more than a school with a well-equipped computer lab, explains its Deputy Head. “When pupils graduated from primary level, they had nowhere to go. Chapula Secondary was a lifesaver for this community.”
If you build it, they will come
Kapila Primary has seen enrolment numbers climbing too, since Government introduced free education at primary and secondary level. “Kapila Primary had about 100 students until around 2020, and today it has 342 students,” says the school’s Head Teacher, Mr Nsai. “Several students who had to leave [due to financial constraints] have returned,” he adds.
Government responded by supplying more teachers, with the school’s teaching staff growing from eight to 19 teachers between January 2022 and June 2023. But classroom space remained in short supply and students had to study in alternating time slots – some in the mornings and some in the afternoons. Thanks to the new classroom block (the third of three), disruptions like these are no longer expected to be necessary.
“This increase in enrolment makes infrastructure like the extra classrooms block and computer lab built by Kagem and Gemfields Foundation more important,” said Mr Edward Kapandula, speaking on behalf of Lufwanyama’s Member of Parliament Hon. Kenny Siachisumo at the handover ceremony. “It is encouraging to see that the mineral wealth found in Lufwanyama is bringing benefits to surrounding communities,” he added.
Onwards and upwards
Kapila Primary’s second classroom block – known as “Block B” – was built by a private donor through Gemfields and recently upgraded by Kagem, with new floors, new ceilings, new boards on the walls, and new paintwork. Block A, the school’s first, is next in line. Originally built by the local community and upgraded by Kagem several years ago, it’s now in need of a facelift and will undergo major renovations, funded by Kagem, in the new year.
Another exciting development for the district is the construction of the Chapula Vocational Training Centre in Lufwanyama, for which Kagem and the Government of Zambia signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in September 2023. The training centre will enable local men and women to acquire vocational skills, giving them more employment opportunities, and will be funded by Kagem at an estimated cost of ZMW 52.75 million ($2.5 million).
Kagem’s long-standing support of university scholarship programmes – within which students from the geological and mining engineering departments at the School of Mines at the Copperbelt University (CBU) and the University of Zambia (UNZA) were sponsored over a period of eight years, at a cost of $345,000 – are also central to the value the company places on education. This is part of a desire to contribute to the development of future employees and leaders by supporting today’s learners, says Ms Mbewe. Kagem recently renewed these partnerships, committing to new scholarship programmes to the same monetary value.
Serious reforms require serious teamwork
Speaking at Kapila’s handover ceremony, Lufwanyama’s District Commissioner Mr Justin Mwalikwa described Kagem as a long-term partner in building modern infrastructure and enhancing service delivery in the district, in both the education and health sectors.
Government’s ambitious plans to roll out an e-learning management system to ensure easy access to online teaching and learning materials across the country – expressed during the Ministry of Finance’s 2024 budget presentation – will require an all-hands-on-deck approach to the country’s development.
Kapila Primary might be one of only a few institutions in this part of Lufwanyama that can offer its pupils computer lessons – but the public-private sector partnership that made the district’s first solar-powered computer lab a reality has also made Kapila a trailblazer. And, with every new trail, the potential for a well-worn path is set in motion.
Header image: Stakeholders gather in Kapila Primary’s new computer lab, including Mr. Justin Mwalikwa, Lufwanyama’s District Commissioner (front left) and Mr Sean Gilbertson, Gemfields CEO (front right)
See also: Emeralds for Zambia