One of the most pressing social and political problem facing primary education systems in developing countries is the universal provision of quality education to all. In the face of the non-realisation of universal state provision of education, the question of non-state providers comes to the fore. To cope with this need, countries such as Zambia, have adopted policies on decentralization and democratization of education. In turn, this has increased the impetus to the attention given to non-state providers in education provision. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to understand the contextual nature of learning in selected urban community primary schools of Lusaka, Zambia. Community schools are a non-state delivery of primary education in the low resource context that caters for poor and vulnerable populations who due to supply-side constraints, are unable to assess free education provided by the state. The open systems theory and dimensions of learning theory were used as theoretical models from the multiple discourses to guide the inquiry. The study is based on an interpretive worldview, multiple case study design involving six urban community primary schools of Lusaka, Zambia. Thirteen participants consisting eight teachers and five headteachers were purposively sampled for the study. Data were gathered through semi-structured interviews, observations, photographs, document analysis.
The study found that the policy culture of the schools encouraged curriculum coverage and teaching for test. The teaching was mostly characterised by rote learning than on sense making and real-life application. While it is indisputable that this transmission model of learning is effective for some learners, maximising the potential of learners should be at the centre of the 21st century community primary schools. Most schools faced teacher shortages and poor school infrastructure leading to multigrading classes, overcrowding and double shifting. Furthermore, most teachers lacked teacher education and struggled to accommodate reforms initiated in the curriculum. With insufficient funding, it gets hard for the schools to implement proven reforms, for example, employing and retaining effective teachers. The funding weakens the schools’ potential to develop the innovativeness of the up-and-coming age of workers and entrepreneurs. With community primary schools increasingly becoming a major feature of the education landscape in Zambia, I posit that the contextual nature of learning in community schools should increasingly become a conversation of local scene urban education. This is important as the disadvantaged communities’ futures rely heavily on the nature of its schools.