Choosing caterpillars over education
Keeping pupils in class at Mwangata Primary School had become increasingly difficult during the caterpillar season as pupils preferred to be out collecting caterpillars instead of being in school. Despite school authorities engaging parents to ensure that pupils stayed in school, the trend persisted for years. This affected pupils in so many ways as some failed to write term tests, while others completely dropped out of school.
Every year large swarms of caterpillars in Mungwi District of Northern province paralysed the school programmes.Hence, Mwatanga Primary School was previously known for closure during the caterpillar collection season as parents in the community and surrounding areas would withdraw their children from school and take them along so that they could collect caterpillars to earn an income.
Some children would even be made to stay at home and take care of their younger siblings while their parents gathered caterpillars for sale. During this season, the maximum attendance for a single class would be 10 pupils out of the normal 45 students, while other classes would not even have a single pupil.
This predicament soon became an issue of the past when Kasama Christian Community Care (KCCC), launched a ZGF-supported project geared at combating child labour in the area. KCCC conducted sensitisation meetings with parents and guardians and over time the situation began to improve. During the period October to December 2016, the school had an unusually high class attendance; and a high pass rate. Out of 210 grade seven (7) pupils who wrote their exams, 209 passed and qualified to proceed to grade eight (8).
Also a total of 187 grade 9 pupils qualified to Grade 10, a scenario which had never before been seen at Mwangata School. Enrolments for pre-school and grade one were also the highest early this year (2017). Teachers expressed joy at the positive changes within the school, and pupils also were happy that they could learn without being interrupted, as they would love to finish school.
Child labour threatens a number of both national and global aspirations aimed at improving people’s livelihoods and enhancing meaningful economic development. Much more work needs to be done in Zambia to combat this vice but with organisations like KCCC taking the lead, great progress can be made.