To improve learning, popular opinion, political pressure and the latest fads in education come and go, but assessment results build over time to slightly nudge teachers and policymakers closer to finding evidenced-based interventions that work. In pursuit of collecting evidence, DevTech implemented Zambia Education Data activity, forged rivers, camped in forests and crossed sand dunes in five different provinces in November 2018 to assess the reading skills of over 15,000 Grade 2 learners from 816 schools. Results from the assessments, which were conducted in seven different languages, are intended to provide actionable recommendations to the Ministry of General Education and USAID/Zambia to inform policies and programs that aim to improve reading skills in Zambia.

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Crossing rivers…. In the remote and rural Senanga District in the Western Province, most people earn their livelihoods through fishing in local rivers, cultivating cassava and maize alongside raising goats, chickens and cows. Every morning and afternoon, children walk up to 20 kilometers across flooded plains to attend Lilunga Primary School. Education Data activity assessors experienced firsthand the obstacles children face, and the perseverance required for them to obtain basic education. In November, the Zambezi river floods the plains preventing motor vehicles from passing through. Without transportation, the DevTech data collection team set out on foot before dawn to trek the 14 kilometers over 6 hours to reach the school to assess 20 learners. Situated on a small sandy patch, volunteer teachers deliver instruction to learners in Grade 1 through 7 within the precariously built and supported structure.

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Crossing sand dunes and forests … Over 130 kilometers away, another data collection team, set out across sandy plains from the District Education Board’s office to reach Mbomo Primary school. Due to the difficult terrain, the only two suitable modes of transport are 4x4 all wheel vehicles and Oxcarts. While en route inside Sibala Forest, their vehicle broke down. As soon as they pulled over, the driver hurriedly ran off in search of the spare part needed, while the data collection team had no option but to prepare to camp for the night. Fortunately, with a tent, a fire to keep warm and some spare provisions the team made it through the night with most of their humor intact. With some luck, the driver was able to fix the vehicle and the team set off early the next morning towards Mboma. By lunch, the team arrived and eagerly began to assess the Grade 2 learners.

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Budget constraints and remoteness can lead to the exclusion of hard to reach schools and communities like Senanga and Mboma. Oftentimes they lack access to vital educational inputs such as instructional materials, teacher training and coaching, which urban schools more readily can access. To provide Zambian policymakers with a complete picture of the lived experiences of the learners, teachers, and headteachers in these rural communities, DevTech is proud to cross rivers, sand dunes and to camp in forests to collect evidence.

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