Application of Research Evidence in Policy Formulation to Enhance Child Development Opportunities in Zambia

  • Robert Serpell
Part of the Social Indicators Research Series book series (SINS, volume 74)


Public policy formulation for children requires that their families’ cultures be taken into account, with a view to maximizing inclusion and local accountability. Two cases in Zambia’s history are analyzed where evidence from systematic research was cited in support of particular aspects of educational policy.

Language of initial literacy instruction was the focus of a radical change in government policy soon after independence in 1964. Instead of building on children’s competence in an indigenous spoken language, the English Medium Scheme immersed learners from Grade 1 onwards in the official language of the state, enabling some to acquire literacy skills suitable for further education, while the majority ended their schooling barely literate. The rationale derived from a Canadian French immersion program ignored significant differences between socio-cultural and politico-economic contexts. After several decades, the policy was eventually reversed, but with insufficient attention to timing and methods of transition from literacy in a familiar local language to English literacy.

Community-based support for children with special educational needs was proposed in 1983 as a strategic response to the vast gap between the scale of documented needs and the scale of existing service provision. Specialized institutional care and instruction by trained professionals in separate schools and units would need to be increased tenfold to reach even one-third of eligible children nationwide. Technical advantages of a community-based rehabilitation approach were articulated and tested with local pilot projects but never systematically scaled up. Instead, a very slow expansion of institutionally-based services was attempted, and inclusion rhetoric is superficially invoked as evidence of national progress in provision for children with special educational needs.

Optimizing application of scientific research to educational policy demands close attention to contextual factors; using multidimensional criteria to evaluate pilot projects; building gradual, localized fine-tuning into the process of scaling up interventions; technical input into detailed policy and implementation processes; and co-construction of productive dialogue among stakeholder groups with varied perspectives.


Cultural context Educational policy Africa Literacy learning Medium of instruction Childhood disability Special needs Community-based rehabilitation Inclusion Accountability 


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert Serpell
    • 1
  1. 1.University of ZambiaLusakaZambia

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