In the year 2011, Zambia moved up in income status with a reclassification from a low-income country to a middle-income country. The reclassification stems from improvements in Zambia’s economic and social structures. Zambia has made strides in the education realm in particular, with high primary school education completion rates. However, due to geographical barriers and higher rates of poverty, access to education in rural Zambia does not see the same equality as other parts of the country. Acknowledging the role of education in poverty reduction, it is imperative to improve access to education in rural Zambia.

School Completion in Zambia

A point of pride for Zambia is its national primary school completion rate, which stands at 91.8%. However, when comparing the national primary school completion rate with semi-urban or rural regions, regional discrepancies become apparent. In Zambia’s northern region, comprising mostly of rural areas, this rate stands at 81.3%, indicating clear geographic disparities in completion rates.

Despite high national primary school completion rates, just 67% of students go on to attend high school. Barriers to high school attendance include a lack of secondary schools “to accommodate all primary school graduates.” Additionally, school fees are necessary from eighth grade upward, which many impoverished families cannot afford.

Poverty and Access to Education in Rural Zambia

For students living in rural areas, the long distance to educational establishments presents an additional barrier. In fact, rural Zambia faces the most obstacles in keeping children in school because there are few schools, often far from students’ homes. Most rural Zambians cannot afford the costs of transportation to schools because rural areas face a higher rate of poverty.

Furthermore, impoverished families struggle to afford the costs of school fees. According to the World Bank, the poverty rate in rural Zambia stood at 76.7% in 2015 while the urban rate stood at 23.4%. The World Bank also estimates that about 75% of Zambia’s impoverished reside in rural regions.

This has far-reaching impacts. Children who do not go to school often end up in child labor in order to contribute to household income. Furthermore, parents marry off their young girls to ease the economic burden on the family. Access to education in rural Zambia will lower both child labor and child marriage rates while providing a pathway out of poverty.

In order to improve access to education in rural Zambia, the most significant barrier to education, poverty, must stand as a priority in aid efforts. In order to keep more children in school in Zambia, geographical location and financial means must not stand as barriers to education.

CAMFED Zambia Takes Action

CAMFED Zambia began in 2011, initially working in Zambia’s rural areas, such as the northern region. In particular, girls in rural areas face a higher rate of exclusion from education. Thus, CAMFED Zambia “empowers the most marginalized girls in rural Zambia to attain a full secondary school education.” With CAMFED’s efforts, the female students it supports “achieve a completion rate of 96% and a progression rate of 98%.”

CAMFED also supports the education of other marginalized children. Since its beginnings, CAMFED Zambia has helped more than 400,000 children obtain primary and secondary education through donor support. “CAMFED provides holistic support” in the form of “school or exam fees, uniforms, sanitary wear, books, pens, bikes, boarding fees or disability aids” to ensure children remain in school.

Efforts to improve access to education in rural Zambia ensure that children gain the knowledge and skills to rise out of poverty. With an education, these children are able to secure higher-paying, skilled jobs, enabling them to contribute to growing Zambia’s economy overall.

– Hariana Sethi
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in Zambia
Child poverty remains an issue in Zambia, a country with a very young population. According to estimates, about 46% of Zambians are aged 14 and younger and the median age is one of the world’s lowest at a mere 16.8 years. The young average age is part of why child poverty is especially rampant in Zambia.

Child Poverty in Zambia

Nearly 42% of Zambia’s population is classified as extremely impoverished. As almost half the population consists of children, child poverty is a grave concern. Many Zambian children lack adequate healthcare, nutrition and housing. Families’ struggles for these basic needs force them to keep their children out of school, and instead, send them into the workforce. According to a U.S. Bureau of International Labor Affairs report, Zambia’s most prevalent form of child labor is agricultural work. Working children face long workdays and physical abuse as they attempt to earn an income to secure their basic needs.

Causes of Child Poverty in Zambia

The youthful country’s population continues to grow, which UNICEF considers the leading cause of its high child poverty rate. The fertility rate is 4.7 children per woman, with an annual population growth rate of 3.2%. An increase in children for those who are already not financially stable worsens monetary problems, and when many financially struggling families have more children, it causes a jump in child poverty.

About one out of five children in Zambia does not live with their parents, leading to a large number of children living on the streets. These children are susceptible to dangers such as abuse, alcohol and drug addiction and prostitution.

Despite the country’s efforts to eliminate gender disparities, which have allowed for girls to enroll in school in the same numbers as boys, education access remains an issue. Families struggle to pay fees required for attendance and battle to provide their children with the transportation needed to travel long distances to school.

Zambia’s large child population leaves schools struggling with overpopulation and lacking sufficient study materials. School buildings are unsafe, people rarely follow sanitation policies, teachers do not always have the qualifications needed and sexual abuse raises concern. In addition to poor school conditions, the pressure on children to provide for their families also leads to a decrease in children attending school.


Initiatives have emerged in order to combat child poverty in Zambia. For example, Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED) is an organization that works to improve the likelihood of Zambian children remaining in school. Founded in 1993, the organization aims to improve children’s access to education and ensure they finish school.

Zambian girls are more likely to drop out of school than males, with 13% of girls in rural areas having no education compared with just 5% of males in urban areas. According to CAMFED, poverty, child marriage and early pregnancy are the main factors that keep girls in rural areas from attending school.

CAMFED provides girls and people with disabilities with comprehensive material and non-material support and helps make them aware of the full potential they can live up to. Inspiring words and material necessities work together to show how important education is.

CAMFED’s Achievements

As of 2021, CAMFED Zambia has expanded its operations from three districts to 47 districts across four provinces. Girls who have accepted its support have demonstrated a school completion rate of 96%, with 98% of girls making at least some progress in school.

CAMFED has supported about 6,787 government partner schools across more than 161 districts in not only Zambia but Zimbabwe, Ghana, Tanzania and Malawi as well. The program has also managed to provide 376,898 students with secondary scholarships.

CAMFED works toward providing females with long-term support for their education, and, CAMFED’s reason is simple. Everyone should have an equal opportunity at living a full life, regardless of financial status. Through CAMFED Zambia, the children of Zambia are learning that receiving an education is possible and a life of poverty is not the only option.

Nia Hinson
Photo: Flickr