Many scholars have suggested that educating girls is one way of achieving gender equality in education.
It also helps in attaining universal primary and secondary schooling for all.
Inequalities between men and women at all levels has been fueled by girls’ failure to acquire meaningful education.
As a result, many girls often drop out of the school system.
Zambia is among sub-Saharan countries with economic and social problems that have continued to see a rise in teenage pregnancy and early marriages.
These pertinent issues have contributed to high school drop-out rates among girls particularly in rural and peri-urban setups.
A report by the Ministry of General Education defines dropout rate as the proportion of pupils enrolled in a given grade who drop out of school.
National Action for Quality Education in Zambia (NAQEZ) has observed how a number of things are fundamentally wrong in the rural community with regards to the education of girls.
NAQEZ Executive Director Aaron Chansa said cultural norms that have been held for too long have led to boys being given priority when it comes to accessing education.
He said when there is a choice in terms of sending children to school in the rural communities, most families still prefer choosing boys and leaving out the girls.
Mr Chansa said there is need for all stakeholders to mount a serious national campaign to fight early marriages.
“The civil society, the church and traditional leaders who are gate keepers need to take the matter of early marriages seriously because educating the girls translates into educating the whole family,” he said.
Mr Chansa said most rural areas currently have high numbers of girls dropping out of school due to early marriages, hence the need for traditional leaders to quickly address the problem.
Mr Chansa has also observed how the patriarchal tendencies of most tribes in Zambia has led to the girls being given less prominence with regards to social status in society.
In a traditional Zambian home, women are predominantly responsible for taking care of the household where the girls are expected to perform various chores.
“It is this kind of socialisation process in most rural societies which does not value the importance of educating the girls,” he said.
Mr Chansa said there is need for more sensitisation in families, particularly the parents because the customs have exerted an adverse impact on the advancement of girls in education.
He said besides that, there is need for more premium to be placed on the girls’ education to avoid dropping out of school due to early marriages.
Mr Chansa said amidst the COVID-19 pandemic when the school calendar has been disrupted, a number of girls have dropped out of school after falling prey to early pregnancies and are becoming teenage mothers.
He said the other hindrance that stops most girls from completing education is lack of secondary schools in rural areas.
Due to long distances covered for the girls to attend school, they are forced to become weekly boarders who shift from their homes.
“It is from this arrangement that most girls in these communities become pregnant because they end up living in environments where parental guidance and counseling from their teachers is lacking,” Mr Chansa said.
He said when the girls stay on their own, they become easy prey to order men and risk being involved in mischief.
He said there is need for more boarding schools to be build across the country.
Mr Chansa implored prominent women to participate in sensitising the girls and become role models to them.
He said low demand for education among the girls has partly arisen from poverty in rural and per-urban Zambia.
He said this means more resources for spending on education.
The direct and indirect costs of attending school are usually too high for poor families to afford school fees and other requirements to complete their studies.
The present arrangement seen in public schools requires parents to contribute to various services, such as examination fees, school fees at secondary level, which also caters for stationary, and other school supplies throughout the year.
Without these contributions, the schools are unable to run as expected because they do not receive any funding from the Government.
In addition, these costs come with expenses tied them because it is mandatory to purchase school uniform at the schools despite reports from the Ministry of General Education issuing stern warning against the practice.
Furthermore, children are sometimes sent home until the required contributions are met.
Meanwhile, the practice is not different at colleges as well as public and private universities where students, who have not paid their fees, are not allowed to write exams.
For rural areas, the majority of parents cannot afford to send their children to school because they are subsistence farmers who do not have the capacity to produce on a larger scale, resulting in rural-urban inequalities.
The Educational Policy for the newly elected United Party For National Development (UPND) has promised free education from primary to tertiary education.
In its manifesto, the party has observe that free education is attainable by having leadership that can prioritise the education sector and provide bursaries for students that will be pursuing qualifications that require academic excellence.
Mr Chansa further noted that most families in rural areas live in poverty and do not have the means to further the studies of their daughters especially when they reach senior secondary level.
He said as a result of COVID -19, another contributing factor to the drop out of most girls in school, the re-entry policy will have to be play.
“We need to persuade the girls by involving their parents to bring them back to school and putting up support systems that will be effective at school, community and governmental level,” he said.
All these social structures must be able to support the girls to continue with their education.
Mr Chansa, who is aware about the debates on the re-entry policy and the Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE), said some girls between Grade Five and seven fell pregnant unknowingly and some are ignorant of the consequences of unprotected sex while others are unable to make informed decisions.
“With CSE effectively implemented, we can have well informed girls who can make better decisions in order to reduce on the number of early pregnancies,” Mr Chansa said.
He said teenage pregnancies are more common among the girls from upper primary and lower secondary school.
This is because they are young and cannot make informed decisions unlike those in senior secondary who have some knowledge about sexual education.