Minister of Education speaking at the launch in Zimbabwe

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in partnership with the Ministries of Higher Education in Zambia and Zimbabwe has launched the Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future (O3 Plus) project at an event held at the University of Zimbabwe on Thursday, 28 October 2021.  The Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future (O3 Plus) project is an innovation, a new partnership and a story of positive change for young people which seeks to ensure that young people in higher and tertiary education institutions in Zambia and Zimbabwe realize positive health, education and gender equality outcomes through sustained reductions in new HIV infections, unintended pregnancy and gender-based violence. This is a US$15.6 million project expected to run from 2021 – 2025.

The project will thus enable them to reach their full educational potential and contribute more effectively to the development of their countries and region as graduates, professionals and young leaders.

Speaking at the launch of this project, Zambia’s Minister of Education Hon. Douglas Syakalima highlighted the need for partner Institutions to get this project right from the start and build within its rollout, sustainability. He observed that there was a need for the program to expand to other universities and colleges and therefore made a call to collaborating partners to mobilize more resources because the work ahead was huge. 

In his keynote address, the Minister of Public and Social Welfare, currently Acting Minister – Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation and Science Technology Development, Prof. Paul Mavimba emphasized the importance of education and health as the two pillars which, if a nation misses, the whole development agenda would fall apart. To that end, he made a strong case for investing in the two sectors at an early enough stage for the young population that constitute the majority of the people in Zambia and Zimbabwe in order to reap the demographic dividends. Speaking on the part of the Government of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Prof. Mavimba indicated that Zimbabwe had developed a national development strategy aimed at contributing to an upper-middle-income economy by 2030. To achieve this, Hon Mavimba called for the development of an innovation-led and knowledge-driven economy supported by a healthy and vibrant human capital.  

The University of Zimbabwe’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor Prof. Charles Mbowa applauded UNESCO for coming up with a program to institutionalize the health and wellbeing of students while engaging leadership for long term commitments and sustainability.  He noted that the University of Zimbabwe had since introduced campus-wide modules to institutionalize behaviour change among students. He observed that the 03 Plus program directly amplified existing national and global initiatives related to health education and gender issues espoused in Zimbabwe’s national development strategy, the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030, the African Union Agenda 2063, Sustainable Development Goals namely: number three on health and wellbeing, number four on quality education, number five on gender equality and number sixteen on peace, justice and strong institutions.

Prof. Hubert Gizen – the Regional Director for UNESCO explained that the 03 Plus programs cover eight Countries across Eastern and Southern Africa with support from SDC Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Ireland and France. He indicated that while working closely with relevant regional structures, national ministries, higher and tertiary education institutions (HTEIs), and key partners, UNESCO would support innovation in access to life skills-based sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for HTEI students while advocating for policy and practice changes to make campuses safe and inclusive learning environments for students and staff. In doing so, the project will institutionalize health and well-being programs for students while engaging leadership for long-term commitment and sustainability.

Prof Hubert further announced that in the process of supporting 24 HTEIs in both Zambia and Zimbabwe, the O3 Plus project will reach out to a total of 252,742 students; 152,000 students will be tested for HIV; 2,130 health care providers and 5,300 peer counsellors will be reached with training to provide quality and tailored sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) services and that 168,000 students would be linked to appropriate sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) services. These will be implemented in four complementary workstreams as follows:

  • Institutional strengthening for sustainability; 
  • Student health and well-being;
  • Safe and inclusive campus environments; 
  • Evidence-building and knowledge-sharing platform.

The Regional Advisor for UNESCO, Dr Patricia Machawaria highlighted the need to focus on higher and tertiary education institutions based on the status of sexual and reproductive health and rights for young people in tertiary institutions in Zambia and Zimbabwe. She explained that the said Institutions were home to young adults who were at risk of negative sexual and reproductive outcomes such as unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and mental health issues which ultimately affect their career progression and limit their potential.

Dr Machawira explained that in the 03 Plus program, the ‘Plus’ shows that this project builds on and extends on UNESCO’s decade long work on the ‘03 programs’ which focus on support to basic education. By launching the 03 Plus project, therefore, the program was extending support to the higher education and tertiary education sector.

A UNESCO commissioned Baseline Study on Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and SRH services for young people in higher and tertiary education institutions in Zambia and Zimbabwe found that out of the 24 institutions sampled, only 4 institutions indicated delivering compulsory CSE formally as part of the curriculum and examinable, potentially reaching out to all students enrolled at some point.

Arising from these findings, concerted efforts were necessary to ensure that CSE is delivered formally across all HTEIs, aiming to reach all enrolled students throughout their stay in tertiary education.  Dr Machawira added that it was important for our work in the 03 Plus program to focus on this critical transition period among students beyond secondary and the world of work.

The twelve tertiary and higher education institutions participating in the project from Zambia are the University of Zambia, Kwame Nkurumah University, Kabwe Institute of Technology, Chalimbana University, Evelyn Hone College, Mulungushi University, Nkumbi International College, Northern Technical College, Lusaka Business and Technology College, Copperbelt University, Mukuba University and the Technical and Vocal Teachers College.