By 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.
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
V. Hair dressing
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.
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