Zambia’s Education System – 44 years after independence

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pupilsBy Roger Chali
Every child should have a chance to go to school (Gordon Brown, British Prime Minister). The future belongs to the nation that best educates its citizens (Barack Obama, US president). Can someone explain to me why it is good for children in western world to have compulsory education up to grade 12 and why that is a bad idea for children in Zambia? In 2005, Zambia ranked 22nd in the world with most children out of school (www.natiomaster.com). It is mind boggling to see countries send their children out of school just after reaching grade 7. The Zambian education system in place today I would argue uses the same formula put in place by the colonial masters with very minimal reform at best.

Let me be clear from the onset, I am not advocating for children going through grade levels uncontested, but rather Zambian society makes every effort for students who do not do well to succeed to the next grade. Examinations and instructions methods should not be designed to fail children.

The failure by government to tackle deep and persistent inequality in education is consigning millions of children to live in poverty and diminished opportunity (UNESCO). On the 2007-08 Human Development Index which measures among other things education levels, names Zambia as among the worst in Southern Africa Development Conference SADC, Tanzania (159), Angola (162) Malawi (166), Zambia (165), and the war-torn-DRC came at (168). Mauritius which has a score of (65) the best HDI followed by South Africa (121), Botswana (124), Namibia (125), Lesotho (138), Swaziland (141) and Madagascar (143).

Recent international, regional and national learning assessments reveal that, in many SADC countries, children are emerging from school with only the most basic skills (UNESCO). In 2007 assessment result 25% of grade six children reached the desirable reading in Botswana, Kenya, South Africa and Swaziland. On the other hand Zambia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique and Uganda only scored 10% reading level at the same grade level.

1950 may be a long time ago but it’s worth to note that South Korea and Zambia were roughly at the same economic level. That Korea is one of the world’s most economically advanced nations today and Zambia one of the most backward is due almost entirely to a half century of investments in education, development experts say (Herald Tribune 2003.) There is a demonstrable connection between education and development,” said Steve Packer of the “Education for all Global Monitoring Report,” which tracks governments progress for the UN education, cultural and scientific progress, but it requires sustained investments over time.

In the Firth National Development Plan 2006 to 2010, the Zambian government has allocated a substantial amount to education relative to total budget, but when you do the math the amount is far too short to make a dent. In 2005, the Zambian population was projected at 11.5 million people. UNESCO projects that 50% of the Zambian population is below 18 years old, young people thus account for 5.2 million. The government has budgeted 2.97 billion kwacha for education in 2010 and If 4.1 million young Zambians can have access to education that translates in K725.00 per child. Let us go a step further and challenge government to detach teachers pay from the budget so we can see how much is actually directed at school construction and learning materials. My assumption is that the government cares about every child hence that should be reflected in the budget.

For far too long politicians have told Zambians, they cannot manage their affairs and thus every decision of their well being can only be decided in Lusaka. No wonder most political parties are based there. We have tried this formula for 44 years and maybe we should try letting the Zambian people to participate in the administration of education.

Government should consider breaking up current system in districts, with defined mandates on performance and adequate funding.

1. All districts should make sure all children are able to read and write at the fourth grade level.

2. No school districts will be allowed to send children in the streets just after grade 7 or 9. Thus the districts should make sure all children have access to education from the time they are born to 12th grade. These ideas may sound simplistic but the idea that the country sends hundreds of thousands of its young population at age thirteen into the streets because they so called “failed” without looking at alternatives 44 years after independence, is unacceptable.

In breaking up the current system the lost innovation due to heavy centralized system will be loosened up. Some districts may lag behind, but many more will excel and thus be able to rescue our future from the outdated structure. The ideas can be applied to all sectors of our Zambian economy but this is the topic of discussion for some other time.

School Curriculum

I would like to see government introduce practical work at secondary school level as part of grading towards grade 12 finals, say 40% practical and 60% theory. This will equip our children with skills and sense of responsibility at an early age.

· Students can volunteer to work at the local hospitals, cleaning up our cities and villages, working in farms

· Students in grade 10, 11 and 12 can go to primary schools and help teach basic math and reading to primary schools kids and in some cases help street kids build up reading skills.

· Students in secondary schools should be given time off so they work in motor repair shops and learn mechanical work, work in bakery, work in farms, tailoring shops, hair dressing – all this can go towards their final grade. At an early age we will be introducing responsibility and skills. We have students graduating from University of Zambia who have had no feel of the market place.

· The Zambian education system as I experienced it, prepares you to take examinations, beyond that you are on your own. Growing up in Kitwe I had an opportunity to make wire cars after school and overtime I became so good I made cars for sale, I also planted sugar canes, sold sweets and I repaired shoes , this gave me money to go watch Nkana football team beat Power Dynamos or who ever came our way.

Suppose our curriculum included projects from grade one in :
I. Wire or wood toys
II. Making grass mats
III.Wood crafting
IV. Pottery
V. Hair dressing
VI.Tailoring
VII.Shoe repairs
VIII.And the list goes on.

Most of these projects will not cost much to do, but by the end of the school year, the kids will have picked up some skill if not some trade. A wood toy car in Wal-mart stores USA, sells for $5 to $15.00

Districts funding sources

Given the population and abundance of natural resources, Zambia has potential to put its education at 21st century footing. There are several innovative ways districts can use to raise money for education programs without necessarily waiting for Lusaka to act.

1. Education districts in United States raise money through property taxes, thus districts with capacity to raise funds through property taxes should use this tool.

2. Districts in rural areas without capacity to property taxes should be encouraged to be innovative instead of sitting on their hands waiting for hand outs from Lusaka. Patience pays, but 44 years after independence one cannot just sit and look at falling education standards and hoping manna will come from Lusaka. So, I appeal to government to challenge districts, if you come up with any amount, the central government will meet you half way. This by the way can be applied to other infrastructure development across the country i.e. schools, roads and healthcare construction.

3.Mwinilunga is one district which comes to mind, it has the potential to participate in the $300 million annual world pineapple market. Between Ghana and Senegal they share USD$800, 000.00 of pineapple sales to Europe every year.

4.Due to our favorable climate, many districts can participate in the annul USD$200 million world honey market.

5.2003 Ghana and Senegal exported mangos to Europe worth USD $200,000.00. .

If we have to break the cycle of poverty and disease in Zambia, education is a good start. Accepting the status core with endless excuses will leave many more children in the streets.

For your comments please send to: [email protected]

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76 COMMENTS

    • This ulesis is what has killed Africans, we are too lazy to read no wonder we do not even read contracts with investors!

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    • Dreksel, you are right. We are too lazy. Especially, where the issue concerns Zambia. Some few years ago, some Zambians organised an HIV?AIDS fundraising function in North London. In the same month South Africans also organised the same function at the Greenwich University. I am sure you can even guess what am gonna write.

      Very few Zambians turned up for the functions. I am sure chinese and Japanese residents outnumbered Zambians. At first I thought we were lost-it wasn’t the venue. I don’t know how much money was raised but am pretty sure it was a total loss.

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    • …On the other hand, the South African function saw a huge croud. Even a jazz band played at the party with a lot more cultural entertainment and many more. In short, it was professionally, organised and they raised thousands of pounds. The Zambian venue was another issue. As we believe in sub-standards, organisers hired a very small and substandard Indian pub which was so obscure we by-passed it so many times b4 we convinced ourselves that actually, that was the very venue. Theres nothing in hiring an indian place but its high time ZAmbian realised that “in order to make money one must spend money”. Most of all lets not get so drunk with this foreign help all the time. At home and…

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    • …lets fully attend to something that concerns as with profound interest. As Dreksel has pointed out, how does one expect Zambian authorities to read contract documentations in small prints if chaps cannot read a small passage such as above which even concerns our children-the future leaders? Up to this century, Zambia remains a cash cow under the noses of Zambians themselves. It is because of such negligent attitude thatZambians are now choosing dogs for leaders.

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  1. You are mucking up your ideologies in here.Where on earth does/can someone start learning a trade from grade 1? e.g, tailoring, shoe repair, hairdressing and the list goes on? one has to grasp the academic part of knowledge before practice. Imagine, you are learning your alphabet at the same time learning woodcrafting and tailoring in Grade 1?

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    • The thinking that Africans should somehow be taught “trades” or skills is very colonial. We need to teach our children mathematics, social studies, biology, history etc, things that can make us compete with the rest of the world. Those trades you are taking about have never delivered people out of poverty but instead keeps them locked up in an endless cycle of suffering.

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    • Dreksel. I don’t agree with you here my brother (or sister). All the developed countries I know have the largest number of trade skills, more than the academic levels u are talking about. Why Zambia cannot develop with all the trade skill that developped in seventies and eighties is a question of terribly bad economic policies on the part of the govt. Mind you, we cant all be on the engineering drawing board/table. Whos gonna do the fitting, plumbing, electrical house wiring, bricklaying, painting and decorating, roofing, landscaping, etc? Not everyone is an engineer or scientist in America.

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    • I you look at their school carriculae system here most of these skills are learnt at nursery level. Long before Grade 1, children become very craft, indeed. Trade skills start to get induced at nursery level.

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    • Cutey,

      Idea is to provide some vocational education to students, which allows them to earn their livelihood after their education is over. yes obviously they can not start such activities from grade 1, but it is essential to teach students some activities in a name of extra curriculum study. 

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  2. Its all economics, its been reiterated a gazzilion times but lets be real; a good economy = more money = more children in schools, better facilities and better employment opportunities. With an economy such as ours, citizens lose morale to go to past a certain level as jobs are scarce. However, you could argue that the fresh minds bring with them better ideas, but who will listen to them with the sub-standard politics we practice?

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  3. Come on guys it is not that long compared with legal judgements in court!Anyway I do agree witht the writer that certain practical lessons like mat weaving ,for example ,should be implemented in year 1.One thing for sure is that statistics aren’t accurate.You will be shocked at the level of illitaracy in the UK even though they offer free primary and secondary school education.English is my second language but I have had to explain to most English people what certain word mean and when it come to spelling you WILL BE SHOCKED!!!

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    • That is true , but what is also true when it come to learning how to operate say a machine, which normaly takes a Zambian months to learn, they get it in hours. That is the difference.

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    • It is true to claim that illeteracy is high in England and USA and it is equally true that these same countries have high numbers of well qualified persons and excellent universities.

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    • Dreksel, you are right about the tuth that there are high levels of illiteracy in the UK and USA. But, illiteracy here cannot be compared to our illiteracy in Zambia (or most of Africa). These are high Tech. countries. What an illiterate person here knows is by far more than the same level of illiteracy with his/her Zambian counterpart. An illiterate person here is exposed to sophiscated technology while his/her counterpart in Zambia, more often than not, cannot operate even a simple machine. Here, any1 can ve a free computer at public libraries with free lessons to use it.

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    •  Man you aren’t lying. Some people in the states don’t even know how to read and write. I am also happy that you stated that “English is my second language” , cause most of the people n Zambia don’t know that. I am about to complete my education at an american school here in Belgium and i can tell you that most of the Americans here can barely read and write. Which is kind of funny cause; a well educated twelve year old kid in Zambia is able to handle both. See, we Zambians citizens would have helped our economy grow a long time ago. When people can to the “UK” or “USA” for education , they tend to forget where they come from. Immediately after completing their education ; they start looking for jobs here.  

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    •  Man you aren’t lying. Some people in the states don’t even know how to read and write. I am also happy that you stated that “English is my second language” , cause most of the people n Zambia don’t know that. I am about to complete my education at an american school here in Belgium and i can tell you that most of the Americans here can barely read and write. Which is kind of funny cause; a well educated twelve year old kid in Zambia is able to handle both. See, we Zambians citizens would have helped our economy grow a long time ago. When people come to the “UK” or “USA” for education , they tend to forget where they come from. Immediately after completing their education ; they start looking for jobs here.  

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  4. I agree with the writer when it comes to compulsory education up to 12.Since free education was introduced up to G7,there has been 100% enrolment and 50% of these dropout when they qualify for G8 due to lack of funds.Our education standards are goinng to the dogs.Lem me give an example of myself,i was at Evelyn Hone doing computing for three years but i can assure you, i was well educated theoretically but was never given an opportunity to go for industrial break to have hands-on experience.It was really challenging in the industry when i graduated and i feel sad that the same has continued.My plea goes to the Director CDC to revise School curricula to accomodate pratical work as well.

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    • I think compulsory education should go up to university and college. It is for the very reason that we ar a country of grade 12s and undergraduates that we are unable to run our own country.

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  5. When are we going to stop defining our education according to the western standards? In the arab world, where the children are taught to read the Koran from an early age, there is almost no illiteracy. Is it amazing?

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    • Tell me Nine Chale, where are you getting your statistics from and how are you defining illiteracy? Are you using a western standard?

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  6. This is a thought provoking article ,it has its owns loopholes though. But the one thing worthy mentioning is the need for us to take a closer look at our education system .Indeed there is some thing wrong and this we need to seriously address.Look at the differences in private and govt owned schools , urban govt schools and rural govt owned schools then rural mission schools and rural govt owned schools ,the standards are different why is it so? ….need to explore .The govt, political parts spend so much time on less important issues while neglecting education sector .There are issues of motivation to teachers , in terms of accommodation , good living wage , continued education. ..

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  7. Let me correct the author on comparing GRZ to NRG. In Colonial days it was compasory to enter school when one reached the age. Failure to do would land the child’s parent in jail. The only bottle necks came at grade 4 and grade as one had pass exams (certificated) to go to the next grade and also there very few secondary schools. But these were being expanded especially in mine townships- each compound had a primary school complete with teachers houses. Teachers those days were much well behaved than even todays ministers. This gave great value to education. School supplied free pencils, free text and excercise books. Free sporting trips were provided. Unip only tried to improve on this but

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  8. Cont.. along the way we lost it. Then came private schools which only the rich can afford. GRZ schools were left bare of every thing including quality teachers who had opted for high salaried positions in private schools. To compound the problems, our ministers tend to send their offspring to overseas schools thus making them out of touch of what is happening to our local schools. Unti a law is passed that we all must attend local schools and medical facilties nothing will come out of this talk.

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  9. Truth is, the article is rather POORLY developed, albeit naively and feebly projecting some circles of the same rudiments over and again.
    Simple fact- What a PEOPLE do is what defines them.No need to elaborate at all, the word is Failure.

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  10. It is not what you know, but what you do with what you know. In Zambia we need to train our young people how to think. We can teach them all the trades and stuff, but if they can’t think, they are as bad as the unskilled/uneducated.

    What I mean by think is “critical thinking” This can start as early as Pre-school, even at home when they are too young to attended organised school. Westerners as successful not because they are skiiled or know how to read. It is becuase they question things. Yes bwana inapaya pa Zeed.

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  11. The article should be given attention by the ministry of education in Zambia because it displays deep matters of the heart about the education system in Zambia.The conceptual framework behind this great work is Howard Garner’s theory of multiple intelligence. Rodger, you are a great thinker and you have a heart for your people. My heart bleeds the same for my people.Something should be done soon. The educational bureaucracy or red tape in Zambia’s educational system delays application of brilliant ideas. For some time now I have been fighting along the same of trend of thought to nature and nurture the multiple in our pupils or people in diverse ways.

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  12. The article should be given attention by the ministry of education in Zambia because it displays deep matters of the heart about the education system in Zambia.The conceptual framework behind this great work is Howard Garner’s theory of multiple intelligence. Rodger, you are a great thinker and you have a heart for your people. My heart bleeds the same for my people.Something should be done soon. The educational bureaucracy or red tape in Zambia’s educational system delays application of brilliant ideas. For some time now I have been fighting along the same of trend of thought to nature and nurture the multiple intelligence in our pupils or people in diverse ways.

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  13. Zambians… Long or not, this is worth reading. There is a Zambian writing about “right to education” in the post newspaper weekly. The stuff is worth the read. When you lokk at those articles, you will realise that there are alot of things that teachers, headteachers as well as school proprietors need to put in place.
    Her email is [email protected]. I do not know her, neither have I contacted her.
    Dear Author: work something out … you and her think the same PLEASE EDUCATION, noti fimbi

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  14. this is a very good article which if implemented will take our education system to new grounds, the best you could do is try to share your views with someone who will be able to act on it, from the education sector, most of the times when we do not act on issues we tend to forget about them…

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  15. how much is a text book for a zambian child??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????TELL ME NOW??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Start talking????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????thank you ???

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  16. I was looking for facts about education in Zambia and I found a lot in this article. In 2010 it is a year since it was penned. I hope that there are some successes to report, now? It would be interesting to also find out how the children wanting education and their families are able to pay for education. Would the idea of funding education through property tax, be a burden on those struggling to live day to day? In Canada, those with the most wealth frequently vote down taxation proposals for educational purposes.
    Lastly, my thoughts are that while comparisons may be made between Zambia and South Korea. That it is also an unfair one, given the amount of resource poured into it from the U.S. Even so, your main point of education being the key. Remains so. Thanks! Cheers!

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  17. There is a hope,Let others praise you,it can be strangers not yourself.The weight of heaviness is nothing compared to bitterness.Correction is okey than a rebuke.Watch the hands of a stranger,before the sting as an ant,When you are full, figs cannot be a meal,but when you are thirsty an oasis can fill you up.Anyone away from home is as a bird away from its nest.perfume and fragrant oils make you feel at peace, but trouble shatters your peace of mind.Friends to be a remembrance of our times,and our father’s friend a blessing in our time, relatives can be far away, a neighbour near by can be of help than those far away.There is always an answer where there is a critical thought.Logical is a way to avoid trouble and illogical can lead into trouble, but logical can build a nation.it is a…

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  18. Zambia is seriously lacking and needs intervetion because a larger strata of its population are either genuine or lapsed illterates

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  19. Zambia is seriously lacking and needs intervetion because a larger strata of its population are either genuine or lapsed illterates:(

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  20. Interesting article, makes good reading. Some of the somments were rough but then that’s expected. It takes one prson to cause a change, remember that the whole North African series of protest and their aftermath were started by one angry man setting himself on fire. Do the same, but not physically…. spiritually. Personally I think that something radical is needed. After all madness is defined as “doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results each time!”

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  21. Good article.I wish all our policy makers could read it.Please present it to our Parliament.

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    • Zambia has so much resources and man power. when you look at the teachers that are able to produce  good students that go to compete by studying with whites. INVEST MORE IN THE MINISTRY AND SEE WHAT ZAMBIAN TEACHERS CAN DO WHEN MOTIVATED. MORE MONEY IN THEIR POCKETS! U HAVE SAID!!!

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  22. I simply couldn’t leave your site prior to suggesting that I actually enjoyed the usual info an individual supply in your visitors? Is gonna be again steadily in order to investigate cross-check new posts

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  23. You really make it seem so easy along with your presentation but I in finding this topic to be really one thing that I believe I would by no means understand. It kind of feels too complicated and very vast for me. I am having a look ahead for your next post, I will attempt to get the hang of it!

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  24. Its such as you read my thoughts! You seem to know so much approximately this, like you wrote the ebook in it or something. I feel that you just could do with a few p.c. to pressure the message house a bit, however other than that, this is great blog. A great read. I’ll certainly be back.

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  28. I do consider all of the concepts you’ve offered to your post. They’re really convincing and will certainly work. Still, the posts are very brief for starters. Could you please extend them a bit from next time? Thanks for the post.

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  29. I don’t even understand how I finished up here, but I assumed this post was once great. I do not recognize who you might be however definitely you’re going to a well-known blogger should you aren’t already. Cheers!

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  30. We are currently representing Zambia in our nation wide Model UN, and of all the information and tactics I have found, this one is by far the most feasable and realistic. The fact that you are a former product of the Zambian educational systems speaks volumes to the views and ideas you have presented. I will be using your article (with credit due to the writer of course) as a stepping stone for ideas on remodeling the crippled Zambian education system.

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  31. There is need to study the level of reading at secondary level. There is also need to introduce reading as a compulsory subject at secondary school.

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    • education in Zambia is one of the most closely supervised industries,and it is at the heart of the country,but what they have failed to do is provide education for all.talk is cheap and that is exactly what our politicians are doing,talking! first of all the books that are available in schools are so outdated such that the information being circulated is no longer useful, and our teachers are doing it for the money and not for the sake of these children……..but what needs to be done is for the politicians to be genuine in helping our children, and for the teachers to take their responsibility seriously or we will keep on talking but no change at all….:(

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  32. let the reading introduced to secondary level, because teachers faces a lot of challenges especially when giving them notes i.e Geography, civics, history etc they can’t read the notes and understands, the following day you ask any question they fail to answer it. Even handwriting is pathetic a teacher can’t read from a pupils book. please help us!

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  33. Thanks for posting this . I’ve been looking for this info . Good info I will be back for more info about Phoenix.

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  34. this is no timeto teach trades. we are way past that and we are too intelligent a people. Lets teach out children mathamatics and science so instead of making wooden toy per day, they can make robots that make 1000 wooden toys in one hour. thats the level developed countries are. and its because they invested in mathematics and science education…Basic education first,…Mathematics and science education a must

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  35. I have read a lot of sensible issues in this articl.if the goverment seriously had time to listen to our view and opinions,we would have made a lot of developmental progress.there some approaches that can be adopted and make our system better

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  36. What you have written in your document my brother is really true. i tend to wonder as well why our eucation system is going down since independence . am an educator for natural sciences but it iws really my worry that in schools people still donot take science as a practical subject they still teach it as a history of science. The other problem that i have seen is that even teacers them selves they don`t study they are limited as to what they know

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  37. I request if we can be freinds and shape the education system of our country zambia

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  38. Its a good article. I wish to encourage my fellow Zambians to embrace the spirit of reading. In order to gain knowledge, one must put in some effort just miners do when mining precious stones.

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  39. Why don’t you put references in writings because we need to be sure with what were reading………

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  40. Thank you for this information it has helped me to write my assignment on the reasons why Education standards have gone down , thank very much i wish you can write more on this Topic.

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  41. excellent article, i wish more youths can spend time reading such wise words than unfruitful watsapp posts.

    when i was accepted to study at Helen Kaunda Girls High School for secondary education, i thought my life was set for success. The problem came when i graduated to second year studying Psychology at UNZA- I realized too late that i never wanted to be a psychologist or have to do anything with Psychology.

    i think if the Zambian education system could change to directing the learning efforts more towards effective innovations-in service learning and combination of practical and theory education at secondary school (apprenticeship), the learners would be prepared adequately for life after school (college, work).

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