Press Release

UNICEF and UNESCO sound call for commitment to ensure safe re-opening of schools as world commemorates International Day of Education

24 January 2024

Lusaka, 24 January 2024

UNICEF and UNESCO called on the Government of the Republic of Zambia to ensure safe re-opening of schools on 29 the country continues to respond to the Cholera outbreak which has affected more than 13,000 people, and necessitated a delay in the re-opening of schools for the 2024 school calendar.

As we mark the International Day of Education which falls today, 24th January, we emphasize the dual significance of education: for children to reach their full potential and for Zambia's critical human capital, pivotal for socio-economic development. Now, more than ever, keeping children in school is paramount. During challenges like climatic shocks and health emergencies, such as the current cholera outbreak, maintaining education safeguards children from additional risks, reinforcing the urgency of our commitment to their continuous learning and our nation's resilient future,” said UNICEF Zambia Country Representative, Dr Penelope Campbell.

“Today’s children are facing a global learning crisis of startling proportions: the data shows us that, in Sub Saharan Africa specifically, 9 out of 10 children cannot read or understand a simple text by the age of 10,” said United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Team Lead, Alice Saili. “The introduction of free education in Zambia in 2022 and the subsequent teacher recruitment exercise of over 4,000 teachers in 2023 was a first step towards mitigating the global learning crisis within the Zambian context. However, there remains a need for greater investment in education – including towards the infrastructure that will ensure schools are resilient in the event of public health emergencies such as we are currently facing. The future of Zambia’s children rests on the commitments and actions that we take today.”

Owing to the current cholera outbreak, over 10,000 schools remain closed in what should have been the first three weeks of the new school year in 2024. This has prompted concerns about educational progress for children who were already behind due to pandemic-related school closures which increased the learning poverty rate from around 86% pre-Covid to an estimated 90 per cent in low- and middle-income countries.

To turn the tide, the African Union will, at its annual summit in February, declare and adopt 2024 as the Year of Education on the theme “Educate an African fit for the 21st Century:  Building resilient education systems for increased access to inclusive, lifelong, quality, and relevant learning in Africa”.  

The objective of the summit is to re-galvanize Member States towards the achievement of the Continental Education Strategy for Africa and SDG4 – Quality Education targets. The summit comes as a follow-up to the UN Secretary General’s Vision Statement on Transforming Education in 2022, among other calls for action. It will engage the AU Commission to mobilize governments and development partners to rethink the models of education and skills development needed for Africa.

“Without inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong opportunities for all, countries will not succeed in achieving gender equality and breaking the cycle of poverty that is leaving millions of children, youth and adults behind,” stated Dr Campbell. 




Education transforms lives and is at the heart of UNESCO’s mission to build peace, eradicate poverty and drive sustainable development. It is a human right for all throughout life. The Organization is the only United Nations agency with a mandate to cover all aspects of education. It has been entrusted to lead the Global Education 2030 Agenda through Sustainable Development Goal 4. 

UNESCO provides global and regional leadership in education, strengthens education systems worldwide and responds to contemporary global challenges through education with gender equality as an underlying principle. Its work encompasses quality educational development from pre-school to higher education and beyond.

For more information about UNESCO and its work, visit


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. 

For more information about UNICEF Zambia and its work for children, visit

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For further information, please contact:


Alice Mwewa-Saili: Team Leader, UNESCO



Maria Fernandez: Chief - Communication, Advocacy, Partnerships and Engagement, UNICEF Zambia  



Taonga Kangwa: Communication Officer – External Relations, UNICEF Zambia


UN entities involved in this initiative

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
United Nations Children’s Fund

Goals we are supporting through this initiative