My Experience at International School Lusaka

 ISR received the following comments from the teacher involved in this incident

(9-25-2014) “I’m happy to report that the matter between myself and ISL “The International School of Lusaka, Zambia” has been settled privately.”

My Experience at International School Lusaka


“…..To my utter disbelief, I saw that the government had first rejected my work permit application on June 12, 2012. I was NEVER notified of this, and, in fact, Mr. Bowen lied to me all fall term saying I needed to be patient until it was approved. Then there were notes that my work permit was rejected again in July, and a third time in August. Again, ISL never notified me of this. Instead, they brought my family and myself to Zambia in August with FULL knowledge that I would be unable to work…. beyond belief.”

Dear Dr. Spilchuk,
I am writing to inform you of the atrocious treatment my children and I received from the International School of Lusaka, Zambia (hereafter “ISL”), and most specifically by Mr. Phil Bowen, Acting Head of School during the 2012-13 school year. ISL violated my contract and to this day has refused to pay severance as per contract. I would ask that you warn others.  Read More

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24 thoughts on “My Experience at International School Lusaka

  1. I have read all of these comments and to protect all Teachers and especially those beginning this journey of Internnational Teaching then as part of membership fees I feel you need to have available a Red Flag list of schools who have known problems so individuals can decide for themselves to continue to discontinue their applications. Thanks


  2. I have read all the comments that have been made by those that have responded to Colette’s concerns and misfortune.I have been teaching at ISL for 14 years and I have seen colleagues and administrators come and go. This is a great school, but has its ups and downs like any other school. We sympathized with Colette’s position as colleagues and she knows deep down her heart that we all cared for her and treated her children with utmost care, knowing what she was going through. I am not defending the administrators or the board of governors,but I am very disappointed with some of my colleague’s comments. With due respect, Steven should be the last person to talk ill about this school because he knows very well why he had to leave prematurely (and think about the reputation he left behind). My advice to him is to keep “low” if not quiet! As regards the firing of Heads of School, there have been various reasons that can be attributed to that. One typical example is that of 1999 case where the then HOS, in her own wisdom, recruited over 20 teachers and flew them into the country (though they were “camped” in Zimbabwe) without securing work permits for them! Indeed, ISL has had these challenges, but it has remained strong and resolute to overcome these hiccups. I hope the demonizing of this school will not discourage us to maintain the high standard of performance that the institution has been striving for for the last 50 years. Many genuine, hard working and dedicated expats have had and will continue to enjoy the hospitality of this multi-cultural environment and the warmth of Zambia.


  3. Granted, I know both Mr Bowen and Mwanza personally, who are both swell fellows, but I don’t feel this is even a matter of defamation as the previous poster stated. This is instead a showing of pure incompetence on the part of the ISL management. Unfortunately, this mediocrity has become far too prevalent in most international schools around the world including ISL. You’ve got every right to feel disillusioned and betrayed, Colette. I’m a former ISL student that attended the school for the best part of 14 YEARS. If there was anyone that could explain the several injustices I witnessed in that school, it is someone like me. The staff and headmaster turnover was absolutely preposterous to say the least. I believe there were 6-7 headmasters in my time alone. This is a ridiculous number for 15 years. There is no continuity in the school, neither are there any infrastructural improvements which should be mandatory in this modern age. Often times, us students would become attached to these teachers who’d often put on a brave face in-spite of the treatment they were forced to endure by the higher echelons of power. I’d like to take this opportunity to say ISL is not a terrible school in the slightest; it taught me most of what I know today. The problem is that it’s ran by serpentine board members that seem to look at the school as a profit making venture instead of an educational institution. Some of the students and teachers there are delightful human beings that are unfortunately oblivious to the veneer the school tries to portray. I became sick of it and decided to leave. Your experience is something I lament hearing, especially reading that your children were unfortunate scapegoats in the entire ordeal. I hope you find peace and justice in the end.

    P.S a previous poster: ‘R Steve Gumbay’ was one of my former teachers back in 2007-08 at ISL. Great teacher and an even greater man who gave me the ability to question authority and think freely and out of the box. (Hope you’re well sir! Will never forget your lessons on skepticism and the viewing of ‘The Illusionist’) This is a man that was also treated extremely unfairly in his time there.

    Good luck, Colette.


    1. Thanks for your comments and objectivity. As ISL’s long history of poor management brought the school to its knees last year, my sincere hope is that the new Board will be able to turn things around. It sounds as though Ms Jere is taking the responsibility seriously, as detailed in the measures she has undertaken just since August (see her post below), which included formal Board training. I appreciate your words of support, and am pleased to report I am now in communication with ISL to have my contract issues resolved.


  4. I am greatly shocked to hear this account of people I really respect. Mr. Bowen is such a wonderful person who I would not sit and watch someone unfairly defame. I am a teacher at ISL and with all the experience I have from many international schools around the globe, this is the school I would never wish to leave soon. ISL has a real good work culture and an exceedingly high level of professionalism among the staff. Colette, I just hope you will be able to get over this by God’s grace. For the nature of your specialization, it becomes very political for this government to hire you looking at the fact that two of the institutions in Zambia offer Library studies. However, we all sympathize with you. Your issue goes beyond the school management. You are very aware that most of those of your colleagues you came with had to get their permits after they had already been in Zambia. Had it not been that they teach subjects like French, Art etc, with less competition here in Zambia, they would most likely have been in a similar situation. we really commiserate with you and pray that God sees you through.


    1. Dear former colleague,

      I appreciate your sympathies, however, this is a straightforward contract matter and religion does not enter in. I am asking, as any teacher would, that the conditions of my contract be respected. If you would like to review the documents for yourself, please send me your email address and I will forward them to you. Your comments about Library Science in Zambia are misguided, and it sounds like you are not familiar with the details of my situation nor my qualifications. First, there are no School Library programs, or degrees in children’s library services in Zambia (only a general degree is offered which is insufficient for an accredited international school). Second, I am a certified TEACHER in the United States, with 6 years experience with the PYP. Third, there are other international children’s librarians currently working in Zambia : at AISL and NGOs for example. They all received work permits—which were renewed again this year. I won’t go into the reasons I believe my work permit was rejected—I invite you to speak to Lydia Banda about it. It is squarely the HR office in any school’s responsibility to secure work permits after contracts are offered.

      On your next point, according to Zambian law, foreigners may not be brought to Zambia until their work permit is APPROVED. You are correct when you say my colleagues last year had to “get” their work permits after arrival, however, with one exception theirs were APPROVED prior to their flights to Zambia. Mine wasn’t. In my case, that law was ignored (I was unaware of it at the time). The school brought my family and me to Zambia with full knowledge that my work permit had not been approved, and in fact it had been REJECTED on June 12. Therein lies ISL’s full responsibility for the debacle last year that has still not been resolved, and it still adversely affecting my life. Please note I have reached out to ISL’s new Board and administration, as I understand they are conscientiously trying to improve all the things that weren’t working well in the past. I wish you the best, and am happy for you if your contract at ISL has been respected so far. How fortunate for you. As a fellow teacher, perhaps you can lobby ISL to respect ALL teachers’ contracts.
      Kind regards,


  5. My family is moving to Lusaka in this year, and i need to find my son a school, by the reviews above i take it ISL isnt the school i need to consider?? is there any other schools that is worth it?


    1. Hi Jackie,
      There are 6 major international schools in Lusaka, see summaries here: One big factor in selecting a school is curriculum (American? British? etc.).

      To date my contract issue with ISL has not been resolved, however, I do hope they will still honor my contract. If and when they do, I will be sure to post a notice here letting everyone know. In general, no teacher would ever recommend a school which they know doesn’t honor employment contracts.

      Good luck to you, we loved living in Lusaka. The shopping was excellent, there are lots of cultural things going on, the weather was great, and it’s an easy city to get around. My kids were very happy there and involved with everything from swim team to MUN to Chinese language lessons. Wish you all the best,


    2. Hi Jackie,

      There are four major international schools in Zambia, each with a different curriculum: ISL, the American International School of Lusaka, Lusaka International Community School (LICS), and Baobab. There are also smaller schools for primary only – the French School and the British International Primary School (BIPS). They are located in different neighborhoods around the city, which is useful to consider given the growing traffic congestion in the city. Usually, a visit to each school helps incoming parents decide which school is the right “feel” for them.

      Please note that each school (including ISL) has waiting lists, particularly for primary school. I would encourage you to include ISL in your visits, before ruling it out solely based on this blog. Speaking as the Board Chair, I can assure you that the school is seriously addressing the concerns raised with governance (see my earlier post). Speaking as a parent, I can assure you that ISL has great teachers and a great student body. My son has been at ISL from grades 1-5 and has never had a single teacher that he didn’t like (which is more than I can say for my experience growing up). The school offers a wide range of extracurricular activities and opportunities for student growth.

      I wish you luck as you prepare for your move to Lusaka with your family.


      Elizabeth Jere, Chairperson, ISL Board of Governors


  6. Dear Colette,

    I have read your story and I can imagine what horror you went through. I am also going through very stressful situation related with work permit in Zambia. I have been offered a job – 2 yrs contract in September 2013. I am an expat as well. During last 4 months I have been reassured that my papers are fine and I have to patient as my work permit will be ready soon. So I tried to stay positive and kept on waiting. During this time as well , I have received other jobs offers, but being loyal to a company I signed contract with , I have refused other jobs- in different part of the world. Recently I have got the info that Immigrations refused my work permit as the job should be given to a local citizen. You can imagine how stressful the situation is , as I find out myself now without job, and really shocked for such decision. The job offer requires serious qualifications and international experience so I am more confused by the decision from Immigrations. My contract does not states any compensation in case the work permit is not granted. The company considers appeal but again it will take another weeks to hear the final decision…I am not sure if I can still count /hope and trust that I will manage to start my contract over there and this is really heart breaking…In all this situation I guess I am still lucky enough , not be brought to Zambia as they have done to you and your children..I really hope you are fine now and that you have take a control on your life again !

    take care


    1. Dear Disappointed, Thank you for your words of support and encouragement. To date (December 2013) this has not been resolved with the International School of Lusaka. My and my children’s lives have been shattered, I am deeply in debt, and hope others will be spared what we have been through. I note that ISL now has a new Head of School, as well as a new Board Chairperson, so I have again reached out to them in an attempt to settle the matter. Best wishes to you… my advice is to go to the Immigration Office personally and find out the exact date your work permit was rejected. If the reason given was “Zambianization,” then there is virtually no chance an appeal will have them change their minds. Good luck.


    2. Dear Collete,

      I hope that this issue will finish soon and you will get all the explanations and compensation related with the case. You have to be strong , so I try to be as well despite the frustrations, and my case I am still at my home place out of Africa so there is no possibility for me to check my papers at Immigrations in Zambia..but seeing how the process has been handled and getting know the details how the Immigration dept works there, I have no hope that appeal from my employer will change the final hard as it is, we have to move forward, no other choice I guess..
      take care!


  7. Hello from ISL. Please allow us to share the other side to the picture that has been painted about our school. ISL celebrated our 50th anniversary this year and has evolved over this time, introducing and becoming accredited in PYP and the IB Diploma Program, expanding our extracurricular activities and improving exam scores. ISL currently employs over 60 teachers, with a balance of 40% international and 60% local hire teachers. If the people who worked here 13 and 20 years ago visited us now, I think they would be pleasantly surprised at how much has changed for the better! Certainly we have different Board members than their time, as we are elected by the parent’s association to serve three-year terms. Our Board is guided by a well-developed policy manual, most recently updated in 2011, which CIS stated is one of the strongest they have seen. The Board underwent a CIS training last year and is currently implementing CIS recommendations to continue to improve our performance. This year’s Board, of which I am the incoming Chair, is undertaking Strategic Planning with the school, updating the Conditions of Service for teachers, and has instituted a new Board sub-committee on Human Resources to improve responsiveness to staff concerns. It is true that the school has had turnover of Heads of School in the past few years, but it is not true that this is due to a difficult Board: There were cases of financial mismanagement, which resulted in a new Finance Manager in 2011 and an updated finance policy manual in 2012. Our new Head of School started in August 2013 and brings 30 years of international experience. This year ISL and other international schools in Zambia will jointly advocate to government ministries to avoid problems obtaining work permits for our international staff. (Mrs. Pinkney’s permit rejection is directly related to the “Zambianization” policy of the political party that won the Zambian 2011 Presidential election. This policy ensures that foreign nationals are only allowed to take up jobs where suitable and qualified Zambians are not available).
    In sum, the school has instituted leadership changes at Board and Management levels, and despite the turnover, the school enrolment continues to grow, demonstrating faith of the parent population in the standard of education provided by the school. It deeply saddens me to see Mr. Bowen and Mr. Mwanza’s reputation defaced on the internet, as they are top-notch, respectful and respected professionals who deeply care about the staff and are well-liked across the ISL community. Decisions attributed to school leadership were in fact guided on the advice of our lawyers; we will continue to adhere to our lawyer’s advice as we privately resolve this issue with Mrs. Pinkney. It is insulting to both current and former students and staff to summarize our school’s rich 50-year history as having a “history of mismanagement and abuse”. ISL has been, and will continue to be, an accredited, high-performance school that has fantastic teachers and a vibrant multicultural student body. And don’t even get me started on how great Zambia is – did I mention how warm and friendly the people are? And that the school shares use of a game camp in the national park? And that Lusaka has seven straight months of sunshine? I could go on and on!
    Elizabeth Jere, Chairperson, Board of Governors, ISL


    1. Dear Elizabeth, Thank you for taking the time to write your comments. There is no doubt ISL has a lot of good things going on, however, the way my work permit situation was handled was not one of them. If you were told we were unhappy in Zambia, that is not correct. My children and I loved living in Lusaka, which made leaving all the more painful. We have still not recovered emotionally or financially from the trauma suffered last year.

      Please note that in a straightforward contract situation, lawyers and Board members needn’t become involved. My contract clearly stated “6 months gross salary” if it had to be terminated due to work permit reasons. The termination letter also reiterated those terms, specifying the termination pay to be from November 2012 – April 2013. Both are very clear, and there are no grey areas. Neither of those terms were honored by ISL, so this is a very simple and straightforward contract issue.

      I would ask you to kindly confer with the faculty representative to the Board last year, as she knows the entire situation, and from your post above it appears you may have heard only one-sided information. Again, I reach out to ISL publicly and ask that ISL’s own contract and termination conditions be honored. With thanks again for taking the time to write, I also ask you to carefully review all the documents in my case– paying particular attention to the 3 dates on which my work permit was rejected — two were before I even flew to Zambia. My hope is this will swiftly be resolved by ISL so my children and I can get back on our feet and move on with our lives.



  8. Thanks to all of you for your comments and suggestions. In particularly, thank you to the members of the ISL past community who were able to add and extend what this teacher had to share. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a school to be watched carefully in the future. The comment about the contract not being valid without the work permit/visa is particularly true and should be a red flag to any international teacher in whichever country you find yourself. No work permit/visa…no work…and the contract becomes null and void! I’ve heard this sad story too many times not to reiterate to all potential international teachers, wherever your horizon leads you, to ensure that there is an indisputable clause in your contract that protects you from this pitfall! Unfortunately for this teacher, however, even with the clause, she was not protected and was, in fact, treated abhorrently.


  9. Teaching internationally is on the whole very cushy but horror countries means the working conditions AND living conditions can be atrocious, please research before ou consider moving, I feel very very sorry for you but knowing now what a few teachers told me, i am not at all surprised.

    My family and I have had to suffer a great deal as well as many other teachers in Viet nam in the hands of a demented and perverted individual who no doubt still sits behind his desk all day. Nobody warned us about this otherwise very nice school with great parents and great kids. We did have to warn potential applicants before applying for work there. A handful of individuals basically made the life of many dedicated teachers very impossible. A real headache. Please in future, fetch info from as many sources as possible. Best of luck.


  10. Having been Head of ISL, I know that these issues have been outstanding for years. The culture of retribution and bribery run rampant in Zambia. The board has been fully aware and has, apparently, not been able to resolve this. As for all work permits being issued, that is simply not true. The kids at this school are wonderful, the board members, not so much.


    1. Thanks for your comments, indeed, in my case the Board not only aware, it is actually causing the problem and to this day has not been willing to resolve it. Mr. Bowen claims the Board was only allowing the school to offer me 3 months net salary as severance, despite the contract stating “6 months gross salary.” Mr Bowen claims “his hands are tied…” thus showing he was not running the school, but the Board was. Mr. Bowen and the Board both have refused to honor the terms of my contract, the issue is still unresolved as of July 2013. I am waiting for my contractual severance pay, and I advise everyone to STAY AWAY from ISL unless and until they are willing to honor contracts and run the school with integrity.


  11. I worked at ISL in 1992-1994. I am sad to see that nothing has changed in almost 20 yrs. Much of the contract was considered null and void by the board because yet another interim head had hired us and and he had left. A wonderful, experienced, intelligent dedicated Head of School was brought in by ECIS. He was attempting to get the school up to standard but after 15 months was fired on the spot at an AGM without prior indication. The parents of ISL I found to be ignorant of acceptable standards for an international school and were only interested in how cheaply they could educate their children. The local hires were paid largely in mielie-meal and sugar but it was not enough to keep their children from suffering malnutrition. We loved living in Zambia but left because of or the deplorable way the local hires were treated by the school. The tale goes on but much is unbelievable.


  12. I was in a very similar position at ISL 13 years ago when my work permit renewal was refused and ALL the new incoming staff in August were also refused permits. The story sound s familiar. In that case the schools acrediting body stepped in,resulting in the clause currently in the overseas contract. I loved teaching at that school. Sadly the Board have always had strange powers and influence at ISL. Heads rarely last more than 1 year before dismissal! It is a shame as it used to be a great school.


  13. Any research into the history of ISL will reveal that this is NOT an unusual occurrence and the school, particularly the Board, has a history of mismanagement and abuse of its contractual relationships with staff. I wish ISR would somehow (maybe someone else can take the initiative?) to compile a real data base of incidents with schools. What we hear, or read, are individual cases such as this, yet there is no history or record of cases that illustrate patterns. In the case of ISL they have had a huge turnover not only in staff, but have been unable to keep a Head of School for many years. This goes back to the 1980’s! There is a great deal of finger pointing, yet the overall record indicates an institution and school community that lacks professionalism and a Board that cannot lead and too often has a capricious interference in school procedures. I wish this individual had reached out the the Labor Commission for assistance since Zambia does have very clear laws protecting workers of all types from abuses. I myself fought a case in 2007 and ended up in front of the Labor Commissioner as he chastised the then acting Head of School and acting principal (Mr. Mwanza!) and received full compensation. I suggest this individual file this greivance with the Commissioner for the record. Again, this is a pattern at ISL (and many other schools|) yet prospective teachers and staff do not have a source for a record of abuses, only individual sagas of mistreatment and disrespect for contractual and fair labor laws. The need for such a database is a niche that needs filled for the legion of international faculty who contribute a great deal to their communities, suffer with poor benefits and salaries and often very demanding conditions to educate the young people of the respective countries.


    1. Thank you Steven, for this precious information. My lawyer said she would report the school to the Ministry of Labour, but did not suggest that I file a claim myself, and due to the traumatic situation I didn’t think of it on my own. I will do so now, as I have located their website. Many thanks for the tip.


  14. As if it is not bad enough that they got you there, I just can’t get over the fact that they have not sent you the money your contract says your should receive. I can understand that maybe they thought they could get you the work permit and were acting on that assumption. But, I think in all fairness they should have told you what was going on so you could have walked into the situation knowing what the deal was. I wish you the best of luck.


  15. 1. Dr. Spilchuk seems to have missed the point that the school was unwilling to honor even the severance agreement.
    2. On a lesser scale, I had a similar [but much less serious agreement] over a visa refusal in another country. The school simply claimed “force majeur” as a basis for not honoring other terms. That said, I was fortunate to end up with a compromise and a basically cordial separation.


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