The new international goals have made everyone in education stand-up and listen. No longer is it deemed satisfactory to simply educate a child to primary level. Secondary school is seen as a route to rising out of poverty. But achieving such bold targets will neither be straightforward nor cheap.

There exists, at present, a ‘chronic need’ for greater access to secondary education in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to UNESCO. Only one in three enrol in Zambia as too many children are marginalised by location, cost or academic entry criteria which is causing far too many young people to reach a barrier that they are unable to overcome.

We, as a collective group, can and must do more to alleviate those barriers which are currently drastically limiting young people’s opportunities in life. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which came in to force six months ago, are a genuine, and bold, show of intent by the international community. Governments are required to do more to ensure ‘equitable quality education’ and promote life-long learning, in order for these aims to be achieved at scale by 2030, the integration of corporate investment is essential.

It is important, at this stage, to outline what a strong PPP looks like.

There are a few organisations that have taken the first trailblazing steps in developing a public-private partnership framework in our continent and, in Zambia, PEAS are looking to pioneer that approach in education. It is important, at this stage, to outline what a strong PPP looks like. PEAS has robust experience creating a not-for-profit PPP model in Uganda, something we aim to emulate in Zambia. This means that our motivation is not profit but, instead, increasing access and quality which is the only genuine way to measure the success of education. Remaining true to this principle has enabled us to demonstrate that not only do students pay lower-fees than government schools but there is also greater chance students will achieve the higher grades in their Grade 9 exams than the national average.

In Zambia this week I was honoured to welcome representatives from the Government of Ireland to the first PEAS school we opened in 2012. Ambassador O’Grady spent a morning meeting students and teachers at George Secondary School to discuss how secondary education is transforming their lives. It is our school management approach and the effectiveness with which PEAS operates, however, that most interests the Ambassador.

Ambassador O'Grady meets with students in a science class at Bridge High School in Ndola.

It’s not just about access, though, as getting more children into school means nothing if that education is not of substantial quality. Our Grade 9 average pass rate was 7% above the national average. This impressive performance pays testament to the PEAS model of teacher training, lesson observations and regular monitoring and evaluation. It’s quite obvious when you think about it. Investment into the professional development of teachers has a profound impact on the learning outcomes of their students. We do not cut-corners, for instance, by teaching students how to recite information verbatim without actually acquiring knowledge.

Working collaboratively is the only way to achieve impact at scale

One thing that is crucial is that PEAS are not working in isolation. While leading the way to a ground-breaking approach in Zambia we aim to create a blueprint that other non-profit organisations can learn from and use themselves. Once we know what works we open the learnings to other government and non-government education actors because working collaboratively is the only way to achieve impact at scale.

It was fantastic to welcome the Ambassador to our school this week. He agrees that we’re on the cusp of something quite remarkable in Zambia and, with the correct environment, there is a way for PEAS, along with other actors, to make the SDGs a reality over the next 15 years.

Racheal Kalaba is the Managing Director of PEAS Zambia.

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