The theme for International Women’s Day (8 March) 2020 is, I am Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights. This coincides with the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Adopted in 1995 at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, the Beijing Platform for Action is recognised as the most progressive road map for the empowerment of women and girls, everywhere.
2020 is a pivotal year for advancing gender equality worldwide, as the global community takes stock of progress made for women’s rights since the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action. It will also mark several other iconic moments in the gender equality movement: a five-year milestone towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals; the 20th anniversary of UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security; and the 10th anniversary of UN Women’s establishment.
Despite some progress systemic change has been very slow for the majority of women and girls. No country in our world can declare that they have achieved gender equality. More work needs to be done, and the following story illustrates how cultivating a passion for education in childhood can create the next generation of educators.
Mwenda Kacana teaches at Presentation Secondary School, in Kaoma, Zambia. Since childhood, she has always loved interacting with and teaching children.
“At home, if there was a difficult sum to be done, dad would call me and say, ‘can you come and help your siblings with their homework?’ He was a head teacher and at his school, he did not have enough teachers. When I was in grade 12, he would ask me to teach one of the lower grades in case a teacher was not in or there wasn’t one available at all. Before sending me to the class, he would guide me on what and how to teach. Everyone kept saying that I taught very well. They once secretly recorded me teaching and when they showed it to me, I liked it and told myself … ‘I’m going to be a teacher!’ I went directly into teaching after finishing my studies.”
“In the school where I was posted to for my first teaching job, there was no qualified teacher for grade 8 and 9. I decided to upgrade my skills so that I could be able to help those children. I applied to the University of Zambia and I was picked. I had to pay for the fees by myself – I would use the largest part of my salary for paying the fees and only had a little let for food. I am glad that I went for further education because the knowledge that I gained is very helpful even up to now. Having the degree is also the reason why I can now teach at this secondary school.”
While at Presentation Secondary School, Mwenda has attended several other courses which have helped to build her capacity.
“Together with other teachers, I also attended workshops on child labor and child protection. Here in Kaoma and in many other towns in Zambia, due to poverty, parents usually send their children to the streets to sell scones and other things. This means that they skip school. As a teacher, instead of punishing a child when they come to school late or if they skip a day at school, I learned that it is important to know the children’s’ backgrounds – their homes, and to also interact with their parents and help them understand why they need to keep their children in school. Now that we are interacting with parents, truancy (staying away from school without good reason) has really reduced. The parents know that if they do not send their children to school they will be answerable to someone. There is still a lot to be done one sensitizing more parents on the need to send their children to school. We have also been doing our best to pass on the knowledge from our training on child labor to both children and their parents.”
“From the child protection training, I also realized that we are really not treating the children right and we needed to change that. Personally, I felt that I did not handle children well because I would get frustrated when they did not perform according to my expectations. Children are special people in need of special attention. In order to achieve positive results, we need to avoid corporal punishment and instead treat them well and guide them. When you interact with them, you learn a lot about them and also get to understand them better. This makes it easier to teach them. Changing how we approach and handle children has been changing gradually.
From the training, Mwenda has also learned and understood the importance of remedial education for children with learning difficulties. “These children need my help as a teacher to go an extra mile, to sacrifice a little for their success and future. By doing so, the child’s performance improves.”
“We also had workshops on Sustainable Development Goals and those workshops really changed my mindset. It moved me from just knowing what Sustainable Development Goals are, to a level of implementation.”
“Taking care of the environment starts with me and I also need to teach others how to take care of it. I encourage the learners to not only keep the environment clean but to also plant trees here at school and also in their homes. During my free time we have deliberate sessions with learners to remind them about the environment and we also talk about the climate change effects that they can see. There was once a rain storm with strong winds that blew off one of the roofs off of a classroom block. I kept thinking to myself that if our trees in the school compound had been bigger, then maybe the roof would have survived. When there is a parents meeting at the school, students use poetry and drama to teach them about the environment and how to care for it. The last time we did it, one parent came out to show appreciation on behalf of others. If the teachers and parents change, the children will learn by seeing what we do and one day the children will say, “this is what our teachers and parents used to do…”, and hopefully, gradually, the effects of climate change will be a thing of the past.”
“I appreciate the trainings and wish they could continue, even for the new teachers and new learners. Hopefully all the learning can also be transferred even more to the community.”
Photo caption: During Mwenda’s first teaching job in a primary school she upgraded her skills by doing further study at the University of Zambia. Mwenda wanted to upgrade her skills so she could teach secondary school students who had no teacher. Photo: Nyokabi Kahura.