Before Christian missionaries set up schools in the 19th and early 20th centuries, a Zambian child's education took place in the village, under the mother's supervision. The whole community taught children the roles they would play as adults. Girls learned to care for younger brothers and sisters and to do household chores. Boys spent time with the village men, learning to farm, hunt or fish.
  Did you know?
Zambia has a young population with many children to educate. Half the population is age 15 or younger.
In rural areas, this traditional form of learning is still important. But one of the government's first priorities at independence was universal classroom education. When the new nation was created in 1964, only 100 Zambians had a university degree and only 1,000 had finished high school. Most people could not read or write. The British colonial government had spent little money on education. There were several mission schools, mostly in the cities, but few secondary schools and no colleges or universities.
The government immediately began building schools. By 1971, the enrolment in the early grades had doubled, and by 1984, more than 100,000 students were in high school. The University of Zambia in Lusaka opened in 1966 and Copperbelt University in 1989. Today, Zambia has 14 teacher training colleges and 21 trade and technical schools. Adult literacy centres have been set up, and educational radio programs reach remote areas. Now about three-quarters of the adult population can read and write.

 All students must pay for uniforms, textbooks and other supplies. They must also pay a fee before writing exams. Many large families cannot afford these costs. School-aged children sometimes have to wait two or three years until the family has enough money to send them to school. Some children live too far from the nearest school to attend.

Primary school begins at age seven and lasts seven years. Students then write a difficult exam to find out whether they can go on to further education. After two years, they write a second exam before they can continue with the last three years of secondary education. As secondary schools have space for only a small number of students, the passing grade on these exams is high. Children study very hard to win one of the few places. In the past, boys often received more education than girls did. To correct this imbalance, the government has made the passing grade lower for girls. 
The language of instruction is usually English, but students learn to read and write in their own languages as well. Teachers emphasize Zambian history and culture, and use Zambian textbooks when available.
  Did you know?
To help Zambia feed itself, the government requires all schools to have a garden. Students learn how to grow fruits and vegetables.