ElectricAid’s Funding of the Month for March 2015: Suas Educational Development ‘Fast Forward’

ElectricAids funding of the month for March 2015 is our commitment of €10,000 to Suas ‘Fast Forward’ Educational programme in rural Zambia. Please see details below on this ground breaking development.


Suas is an education-focused Irish NGO currently working in Ireland, Kenya and India. Founded in 2002, our vision is for a world where all young people are given the opportunity to realise their full potential in life, and to create positive change in their society.

Suas has a proven record of delivering quality education to children in some of the most disadvantaged communities in the world. Our Overseas Education Programme to date has directly benefitted over 10,000 children at pre-school and primary level with over 850 Irish volunteers trained by Suas to actively engage in, advocate for and support this work.

Whilst access to education for the world’s poorest children has improved greatly over the last decade, it is now increasingly recognised that the quality of this education is in many cases very poor. Children are often in school but can barely read, reducing their ability to absorb future learning, and thereby severely reducing their chances of escaping poverty. Experts within the international community have identified four key barriers to achieving quality education in developing contexts:
•  The absence of appropriate teaching and learning resources in mother tongues
•  Low levels of teacher education, skill and motivation
•  Low levels of girls’ participation and retention in education
•  A lack of community/parental participation in education.fotm
With a view to addressing these challenges, Suas has designed an innovative new programme for initial implementation in 2015 – Fast Forward: Accelerating educational achievement for highly disadvantaged communities in sub Saharan Africa – with initial phases in Zambia and then Kenya. In the classroom context we will combine technology-mediated learning with high impact teacher training supported by volunteer educationalists, initially from Ireland; alongside this the programme will encourage girl’s active participation in education through training and awareness raising activities with the school population and local community. We will adopt a rigorous approach to measuring the outcomes of the programme, using qualitative and quantitate techniques, so as to identify and scale-up those activities that have the most beneficial impact on students, teachers and community members engaging in the programme.

Over 2015 we will initiate Phase 1 of the programme with a Start Up Project in rural Zambia, a country chosen for its high level of need based on the above key factors. Children in Zambia are failing to achieve basic competencies in literacy (ranking 13 out of 15 countries in Sub Saharan Africa). 27% of females have no education compared to 18% of males and girls are at a high risk of child marriage and being removed from school early due to traditional beliefs that do not value female education. Additional challenges in the country include the crisis of HIV and AIDs with approximately, 170,000 children currently living with HIV and 160,000 orphaned.

In many rural areas in Zambia, the Government provides very limited support for education and many communities have had to establish and resource their own ‘Community School’ to fill the gap. Community Schools are fully financed and staffed by local communities. They are most often defined by very overcrowded classes, a lack of adequate teaching and learning materials (bare classrooms, no textbooks and no stationary) and unqualified teachers and school managers. English is only one of eight languages of instruction meaning there is a significant challenge in providing contextually relevant materials in Mother Tongues.

In the Zambian context, Suas is collaborating with a number of Community Schools in Luapula Province and with iSchool, a Zambian social enterprise that produces low cost, durable, solar powered teacher and student tablets. The iSchool tablets are pre-loaded with the entire primary curriculum in each of the eight national languages of instruction, including English. This core element provides the basis on which to build further quality education inputs, including the support of Irish volunteers from the education sector. (We have investigated a range of technology options and have found iSchool provide the most comprehensive teaching and learning materials in the most appropriate technology solution for the local context. Zambia has an extensive internet infrastructure and iSchool tablets can connect to the internet – giving children and teachers access to the digital world and a huge wealth of additional educational resources).

The Start Up Project will initially be implemented in three primary-level Community Schools over the course of one academic year to measure improvements to learning quality as a result of a number of educational inputs. The data collected during this period will be critical in enabling Suas and local partners to identify the most effective programme components for Phase 2 delivery and future scale up for the programme in Zambia, Kenya and other countries in the region