CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka
WHEN 27-year-old teacher Jennifer Malama applied to the Ministry of General Education to give her a job at a rural school, she was not sure what to expect.
She had lived all her life on the Copperbelt and did her secondary school teacher training at the Technical and Vocational Training College in Luanshya.
Jennifer had heard many chilling stories about the challenges of living and working in a rural area especially for a young urbanite like her.
Some of the challenges she had heard were lack of electricity, and poor access to social and banking services and basic amenities.
But she was determined to experience it herself and see if the stories she had been hearing and reading about were indeed true.
The ministry sent her to Mukumbwa Secondary School in Mwense district, Luapula Province, where she is teaching commercial subjects.
When she arrived at the school at the beginning of this term she was nervous and slightly disoriented by the drastic change in the geographical, economic and social environment.
But she has quickly adapted to her new environment. Jennifer has already fallen in love with rural life. She in fact confesses that her passion for teaching has become even stronger.
To her surprise, she found that Mukumbwa Secondary School, which was recently upgraded from primary level, had electricity.
The school is one of the public institutions that have been electrified under the Rural Electrification Authority’s (REA’s) Mwansabombwe Grid Extension Project.
Jennifer is living in an electrified house and is able to study and prepare lessons for the next day with little difficulty.
She is challenging other young teachers, especially those who have just graduated, not to shun rural areas because that is where their services are needed the most.
“At first it was not easy. I had heard so much about difficult life in rural areas, but I think the stories were somehow exaggerated. I am very happy and proud to be here. There is electricity in my house. I am able to prepare lessons in the evening without any problem,” Jennifer said.
She was found with another teacher, James Kabengele, in the computer laboratory equipped with 24 desktop computers printing mock examination question papers for Grade Nine pupils.
Jennifer has a strong message for her fellow young female teachers who are not willing to teach in rural schools, and those who are already working there but are not happy.
“They just have to come here in the rural areas and help these children. Every Zambian child deserves decent education for them to lead fulfilling adult lives. We have a moral obligation to help these children because access to education is their right,” she said.
“Luapula cannot produce enough teachers on its own. We just have to come in and help. It is good here because the parents are very respectful and supportive. I have in fact become part of this community and we are living in harmony.”
Jennifer has no kind words for some young and newly trained teachers, who have been using every dirty trick in the book, including faking marriages and conniving with medical personnel to ‘manufacture’ chronic or terminal illnesses so that they can obtain transfers from rural to urban areas.
“I think it is unpatriotic. When I was doing my training I was ready to go wherever the government would send me because teaching was my dream career,” Jennifer protested.
She says she intends to study for a Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees right at her school through distance learning since she has access to electricity and the cost of living is low.
The ambitious young teacher says she was inspired by her teacher when she was at Kasumbi Primary School in Mpatamatu township in Luanshya.
“There was this teacher, Mrs Chanda, who always praised me for attempting difficult Maths questions, especially when I was in Grade Seven. She used to tell me that I was born to be a teacher, and I believed her.
“In fact I used to admire the way she explained things in class. I used to wonder how she could know so much. I wanted to be like her and am really grateful to her,” Jennifer recalled.
Mukumbwa Secondary School head teacher Francis Kasongo is happy that there are young women born and brought up in urban areas who have the passion to teach in rural areas.
Mr Kasongo said in an interview that since REA connected power to the school towards the end of last year, Mukumbwa has received six newly trained young teachers from within Luapula Province and the Copperbelt, which he said was encouraging.
He was speaking when REA chief executive officer Geoffrey Musonda visited him at his office during inspection of the K2.5 million Mwansabombwe-Mwense Grid Extension Project.
So far several schools, clinics and over 400 houses, including those with thatch roofs, have been electrified under the project.
“We are very happy. After the school was connected to electricity it has become attractive to young teachers, especially the newly trained women like Jennifer. Already, we have received six new teachers who have been attracted by electricity,” Mr Kasongo said.
He said the school had been facing a serious shortage of staff in the past because teachers, especially young ones, used to shun it as a result of lack of electricity.
“But things have changed now. Many young teachers like Jennifer are applying to come to our school. The electrification of the school has brought development. We even have a computer laboratory with 24 computers,” Mr Kasongo said.
“Our pupils are studying very well and are learning Information and Communications Technology (ICT), including practical.”
The school has 610 pupils.
Jennifer, who has seven siblings and is single, hopes with the ongoing electrification programme and construction of modern infrastructure more young women like her will take up jobs in rural areas and help spread national development.
Gender – Zambia Daily Mail