Access to Education in Zambia

Access to Education in Zambia

In the Zambian educational system, education is compulsory and tuition is free from grades one to seven. Most government basic schools provide classes up to grade eight. For grades 9-12, families from rural areas must send their daughters or sons to a boarding school, which is usually located a significant distance away from the village in an urban center. This demands significantly more cost than the majority of rural families can afford. It also requires the displacement of a young woman, most of whom undertake vital work in their household.

  • 91% of females and 94% of males nationwide are enrolled in primary school, with 81% and 82% attending, respectively.
  • Secondary school (grades 7-12) enrollment rate is 39% for females and 47% for males.
  • In Northern Province the gross enrollment ratios for grades 10-12 are seven females for every ten males.
  • The greatest disparities exist at the university level, where there is one woman enrolled for every three men.

Prevailing gender inequality in both society and the classroom is responsible for these disparities.Traditional gender roles for girls, the patriarchal education system, teen pregnancy, early marriages and preferential treatment for boys all restrict girls’ access to education.

In Zambia, the impact of HIV/AIDS is devastating, with 13.5% of the adult population HIV-positive. In 2009, 690,000 children aged 0-17 were orphaned as a result of AIDS. Girls caring for their ailing parents and siblings are more likely to be absent from school. Orphaned girls are less likely to advance to the upper grades in school due to a loss of income and support.

Teenage pregnancy and early marriage in Zambia also remain a barrier for girls trying to stay in school.

  • By age 16, one in six Zambian girls has begun childbearing
  • By age 19, 43.6% of young women with primary or no education have begun childbearing, compared to 20.8% of those with a secondary school education.
  • The median age at first marriage for an uneducated girl is 17.3 years, while girls with more than a secondary education get married seven years later, on average.


Societal gender inequality means that even if a girl is able to overcome all these barriers, her education may be neglected so that her brother can go to school in her place. Educating the sons in a family is considered to be a better investment, as after marriage, a girl belongs to her husband’s family.

Girls’ education in rural areas of Kasama district is hindered by many factors that perpetuate gender inequality.Girl’s education is vital because it leads to gains in all areas of life.Educated women have increased access to income in the workplace, enabling them to participate in economic, political and social decision-making, and reducing their risk for intimate partner violence.

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