By Fred M’membe
Education is very important for our country and our people. If we want to develop our economy to overcome poverty, we have to improve the skills and capacity of our people. A free education policy is necessary to ensure access for all despite a citizen’s wealth. Without a free admissions and school fees policy, equal access is not possible.
Today we have increasing number of young people from poor families who are not attending school at all levels because they are not able to pay school fees. No young person should be excluded from attending school because they cannot afford to pay school fees.
No one should be sent home from school or refused results of tests or exams if fees have not been paid. All our young people must be entitled to a free, quality education.
When any young person fails to acquire the basic skills needed to function as a productive, responsible member of society, society as a whole – not to mention the individual young person – loses. The cost of educating our young people is far outweighed by the cost of not educating them. Adults who lack basic skills have greater difficulty finding well-paying jobs and escaping poverty. Education for girls has particularly striking social benefits: incomes are higher and maternal and infant mortality rates are lower for educated women, who also have more personal freedom in choices.
Even the International Monetary Fund in its report of 2004 – Educating Children in Poor Countries – concluded, “User payments for basic education should never be more than a temporary solution: the ideal arrangement and the appropriate goal of education policy remain universal education financed by government out of public revenues. User payments are undesirable because they are a regressive tax when school attendance is compulsory. Voluntary user payments are undesirable because children are excluded from schooling if their parents are unable or unwilling to pay school fees.”
And why should the burden of educating our young people be solely left on the already overburdened shoulders of the parents? Do these parents, in the true sense of the word, really “own” these children for them to alone bear the burden of their education? What one truly owns one can easily sale. Can these parents sale “their” children without risking going to jail? Why should we jail them for selling that which is theirs? The truth is that these children don’t belong to the parents – they are collectively our children. But how can we have rights to these children without the duties of educating them, feeding them and so on and so forth? There can be no rights without duties. It is, therefore, our collective duty as a nation to educate these children of ours.
Education is the cornerstone of economic and social development. This is why we socialists argue in favour of free, decent education for everyone – so that individuals and society as a whole can maximise the potential for improving our lives through innovation, efficiency and imagination.
In a period of capitalist upswing, capitalism can afford to grant reforms such as free education. In fact during such a period it is profitable for the capitalist state to invest in education as a way of developing the forces of economic production. But capitalism requires constant expansion into new markets in order to survive. Thanks to globalisation capitalism has few foreign markets left to penetrate, so the capitalists must look to areas of the domestic market previously untouched by private capital – areas such as education – to quench their thirst for profit. Thus we have generally seen incremental increases in tuition fees over the last decade or so – a reflection of the marketisation of education.
The crisis suffered by capitalism a decade ago brought the capitalists an opportunity to intensify the process of tearing open education and subjecting it to exploitation by capital. This intensification has also been motivated by the extremely unstable economic climate which drives individual capitalists to be even more brutally competitive than they were in the previous period.
Crucially, this crisis is not a cyclical crisis but an organic crisis of overproduction – a crisis of the system as a whole. The only way the capitalists can get out of such a crisis is by destroying the forces of production through austerity, attacks on working conditions and casualisation of labour. At a time when they are so intent on destroying the excess productive capacity in the system, the last thing they want to do is invest in the education of young people which would result in an increase in productive capacity.
This is the context in which the working class and its allies must wage the struggle for free education. What should be immediately obvious is that capitalism cannot afford free education. This is not an ideological question – governments of all shades across the world are faced with the same task of cutting back the forces of production and implementing privatisation programmes in order to keep capitalism afloat. The point is that this isn’t a case of badly managed capitalism, it’s a product of the inherent contradictions of capitalism that require the pursuit of profit at all costs and precipitate economic crises of overproduction.
This gloomy future is all that capitalism can offer: a world in which the increased marketisation of education is inevitable as the capitalists constantly seeks new avenues of profit in the midst of a globally stagnant economy. There is no going back to the golden age of the post-war boom when it was possible to win reforms under capitalism.
This is why we socialists are fighting for an alternative to capitalism in the form of a democratic, socialist plan of production. We argue that free education can be won and safeguarded to serve the needs of everyone, not just those with the money. We understand that education and research have to be funded.
We are not short of money to fund education.
And moreover, the children of the well-to-do have free education – paid for by these same humble workers whose children can’t go to school because of fees. And we shouldn’t forget that all the money in government coffers and in private enterprises is generated by the workers!
There’s a lot of workers’ money – NAPSA and other pension funds – sitting in banks and being misused to build shopping malls and other unnecessary things of no or little benefit to the workers. Instead of leaving it up to individual profit-seeking capitalists and their agents in government to decide how this money should be invested, the working class should decide on a democratic basis where the wealth produced by them is invested – without a doubt there would be reasonable amounts available for investment in free education at every level.
The working class needs to take the economy and political power into its own hands in order to provide decent education, public services and standards of living for all – a society in which the full benefits of economic development can be enjoyed by all. Capitalism, by its very nature, cannot provide this; it is only a socialist transformation of society that holds a brighter future for our people
The Author is a Zambia’s Socialist Party Presidential Candidate for the 2021 Elections