Educating For the Future


The pursuit of happiness is a lifetime pursuit, but the pursuit of a free mind is a day’s achievement.”

            We had just arrived in Lusaka, Zambia, and—although thousands of miles away from America—stepping on the University of Zambia’s campus was oddly familiar. After being warmly welcomed, we listened and participated in a brief education talk. They told us the history of the University of Zambia, and some general facts. Quickly we plunged into the problems in Zambia’s education system, many of which America also faces. These problems included, but are not limited to, having many qualified students but only able to accept a select few, declining budgets but increasing enrollments, teachers who are not qualified teaching all levels, universities not having enough resources and facilities to house and correctly educate students, and Africa as a whole not contributing to the developing world. However, one thing our hosts stressed was their belief that higher education is central for social and economic importance and development, and their sense that a strong educational system improves a nation’s overall quality of life. With this mindset they have a strategic plan to evolve and improve.

In Zambezi, I have the opportunity to teach at Chilena primary school. As I walk into class my first day, I am greeted with students standing in unison, saying “Good-Morn-ing-Ma-dam.” In the four corners of the classroom there are groups of desks with students crammed next to each other, and I know immediately they are arranged according to literacy level. I take a quick look around as I settle myself in the back of the classroom; I realize there are three handwritten posters for science lessons, a chalkboard that only takes chalk in select areas, a few windows, and four dirty walls (bugs and all). Ready to observe the teacher and test the atmosphere of the class I will be teaching, I sit down and the teacher begins the lesson.

I have always loved school, and being a teacher is a goal I have. Besides interacting with children, I know I haven’t even dipped my toes into the vast and complex pool of education. But one thing is clear as I observed this lesson, and now during my time actually teaching: these children deserve a chance. By “chance” I mean individual attention; somebody who will meet them where they are and help them gain knowledge and grow into educated adults. I say this because, as I witnessed this first lesson, I watched the teacher teach to the highest students in the class, while ignoring the lower students. This appears to be the norm for most classes. Anyone could glance around this school and realize it would take a very, very special and select student to thrive here, to be admitted to a quality secondary school, and then to gain acceptance into a university. Indeed, there are many who are swept aside in pursuit of this one very special student, and this is where emotionally and mentally I am tested.

In many conversations I have asked people, “If there is one problem you could fix in Zambia, what would you fix?” and most people respond: education. Here, they realize education is the solution to many other problems: nutrition, disease, poverty, quality of life, etc. However, if people, and more importantly students, value education wouldn’t it be better to give all students the best education, and stop banking on the select few to go all the way? Wouldn’t it be better to teach logical thinking skills and challenge students to apply what they learn in their community instead of teaching and testing memorization? How can we continue to challenge the more advanced students but provide enrichment and support for those less advanced? These are questions I ask in Zambezi, but these are also questions I will ask in America. When I stand in front of my future classes, I will remember the blank and uncomprehending stares of the many students I had in Zambezi, and ask myself: how can I best serve these students?

Joanna O’Neil, Class of 2017

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7 Responses to Educating For the Future

  1. The Polachecks says:

    More beautiful and thought provoking posts! (Bree and Joanna) Thank you both for sharing. Wonderful images are in my head, can’t wait to see more of the photos taken, to see if they match with the ones in my head. Continue to capture everything. Ongoing prayers to all of you…Katie we missed your absence yesterday, I think Claire will forgive you…Love to all!

  2. Cindy Van Dinter says:

    I look forward to reading all of the blogs and hearing each ones perspective on the experiences you are having. Thank you all for sharing the beautiful and the challenging parts of your time there. Your honesty allows your readers to reflect on their own thoughts and ideas our communities. Thank you all and may God bless you and keep you.
    Hannah, we hope you are continuing to feel well and that you know how precious and loved you are. Hugs and prayers!

  3. Scott and Susan Ramage says:

    So nicely written Joanna and I am impressed with your observations after your first day of teaching! You bring up a lot of good points about how to provide the best education for all students. You seem to be off to a great start in your future teaching career. The students in the Zambezi class are so lucky to have you and the rest of the Gonzaga teaching team. I can’t wait to hear how well things go in the next couple weeks of class and I can tell you guys are going to do great things!!
    Keep up the great work.
    Scott and Susan Ramage

    P.S. Say hello to Riley Ramage from Mom, Dad, Kellin and Izzy! Izzy is sending some special hugs and kisses. We miss her and can’t wait to hear all about all of your teaching adventures. Enjoy the rest of the week.

  4. Ruth O'Neil says:

    The Zag’s blog is the highlight of our day, and we have totally enjoyed reading of the group’s experiences and impressions. However after the long wait, seeing yours today was extra wonderful along with the great photo of you and the children. Your smile is relaxed and genuine as you interact with all of them and it is easy to see you are having a great time. Your blog shows you are observing, reflecting and connecting your experience to other areas of life. Education! We will want to hear details of every moment when you get home. Enjoy your remaining days at the school and the touring. We are counting the days till you are home with us again as we miss you very much. Blessing on you and the rest of the Zags.

    Love Mom & Dad

  5. Kelly Norris says:

    Hello 2015 Zambezi team!
    I am humbled by your thought-provoking reflections and am honored to share in your journey through your blog as you experience the magic that is Zambezi. I am reminded of a word Father Dom taught me so many years ago… “lufwelelo”, or hope; it is the hope for a better future, a better tomorrow, a better today. It is this hope that is the heartbeat of Zambezi. You are all part of this “lufwelelo”.

    Enjoy every moment of your time in Zambezi!!
    – Kelly Norris, 2009 alumni 🙂

  6. Katie Wadley says:


    It is wonderful to hear from you and to see your smiling face! Sitting in a classroom in Zambezi, Zambia – what a truly priceless perspective you have gained on education. My heart breaks for the students who are not given an earnest chance, knowing what education equates to in a county like Zambia. The information you have gathered in your first classroom observation was deeply insightful, and I can’t wait to hear all about your experiences teaching at Chilena! I know that your dedication to students as individuals will make you a truly effective and empathetic educator for your Zambezi students and for your students in the years to come.

    I am so proud of you and I love you SO MUCH! See you home soon!

    Katie 🙂

  7. Marieke & Steve Fealy says:


    Great comparisons to our education here in the states. I think in Zambezi it must be really noticeable which kids are being left behind. Here, thankfully they are not segregated by skill by their desks, but many are left behind. This experience will definatly make you a better teacher and recognize those students that need extra help.

    Marieke Fealy

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