The recent introduction of Zambia’s Free Education Policy has opened doors for millions more young people to attend secondary school. Yet, adolescents in remote, rural communities in Zambia are still being left behind. Many of these students face exhausting journeys on foot, arriving at school drained of energy and unable to concentrate. And, the prevalence of safety concerns and the risk of sexual harassment during their commute disproportionately discourage girls from pursuing secondary education.
In PEAS Zambia schools, as in other schools across Zambia, we’ve seen a disparity in learning outcomes between day and boarding students. This disparity arises from the lower attendance rate among day students and the increased study time available to boarding students. The gap is wider for female day students who have less time to study outside of school due to the added responsibility of daily household chores.
In an effort to bridge this gap, PEAS has partnered with the World Bicycle Relief to design and launch an innovative pilot programme in two PEAS Zambia schools. With generous funding from the Costa Foundation, the programme – Cycling for Success – provides bicycles to the most marginalised day students to reduce their travel time and help them feel safer on their journey to school. A total of 240 Buffalo Bicycles have been given to students who travel more than 3 kilometres to reach school, with 60% allocated to girls. The World Bicycle Relief have supplied the students with Buffalo Bicycles, which are purpose-built to withstand rural terrains, heavy loads and long distances. Over the 12-month period, this programme aims to increase student attendance and retention rates, improve safety, boost self-confidence and provide more time for studying, thereby enhancing learning outcomes over the long term.
Beyond access and attainment, Cycling for Success is empowering students with essential skills such as leadership, problem-solving and maintenance. To ensure safer cycling and foster self-sufficiency amongst the student cyclists, all have been trained in basic bicycle maintenance and road safety. Student leaders have been selected to play pivotal roles within supervisory committee, collaborating with community leaders, teachers, parents, village elders, and a trained mechanic, to help oversee bicycle selection, maintenance, and student safety.
While we await data from our recently launched programme, evidence from a similar initiative conducted by World Bicycle Relief in Zambia highlights its potential impact on girls’ confidence, attendance and learning outcomes. Findings indicate that girls who owned a bicycle for two years were 19% less likely to drop out. Moreover, absenteeism reduced by 28% and commuting time decreased by 33%. Girls reported a greater sense of empowerment, higher academic self-perception, and increased belief in their future success.
We see Cycling for Success as a transformative initiative that not only tackles barriers to education, but empowers students with valuable skills and a sense of agency over their lives. By mitigating transportation challenges, this programme aims to enhance student safety, attendance and retention and, by doing so, fosters a more inclusive and equitable educational environment for all. As the pilot programme unfolds, we look forward to seeing its impact and, if successful, hope that it will inspire similar initiatives in other regions, extending hope and opportunities to students previously left behind.