Dr Charles Ngoma
‘EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION!’ said Anthony Blair in a speech that catapulted him to the premiership of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Education has stood out as one if not the most important thing in the history of mankind that has made a big difference in the quality of our lives. Many of us may not be aware that the ideal of universal education is less than 200 years old. For thousands of years the education of children was never systemic but haphazard. Apprenticeships were the only means to acquire knowledge for the great majority of children and ignorance and illiteracy prevailed in communities. Credit goes to Religious institutions, whether Christian, Islamic, Judaist or others for extending the enrolment of children into formal schools. In Africa, many of us are grateful to the Christian missionaries who came and set up schools in every corner of the continent and reached as many children as possible to give them a basic education. 50 years into colonialism, the educated Africans were ready to challenge colonialism and take the reigns of statecraft through nationalism. This would never have been possible without education, because calamus gladio fortior (the pen is mightier than the sword).
After independence, many African governments decided to offer education free to all children regardless of age, gender or tribe. For the first decades hundreds of thousands of children were educated free from cradle to grave. Many of the beneficiaries of that education are now holding the reigns of power. The baton was passed from the freedom fighters to the new generation. We all know that education is not a luxury, it is a HUMAN RIGHT. In this 21st century there should not be a single child who is of school going age who should not be in school and no one should attain adulthood without a basic education. Children drop out of school for lack of school fees when they lose their biological parents. The guardians who foster them cannot be bothered to pay for school. It is shameful that so many children in Africa are supported through school by western families. Where are the governments?
Is it impossible for us in Zambia today to provide free education for every child from grade 1 to grade 12? We can afford idle fire tenders for $42 million. We can afford a $100 million presidential jet. We can afford fantastical superstructures that are for show around the country. We have borrowed more than $10 billion (I am being generously conservative here) in less than 10 years, while in 27 years of free education we only borrowed $4 billion. Let us not be emotionally partisan here and start throwing insults at each other but with cool heads, let us ask ourselves these questions. Are we really so broke that we have to force every parent to fork out something in order to give their child an education which under our constitution is supposed to be a human right?
We have state-run schools that charge ‘nominal school fees’ which according to some who can claim that K2 million is nothing, these should be affordable but are they? Even if they are, what is the quality of education? Why are so many electing to send their children to private and community schools? The law permits the minister of Education to grant financial support to ‘vulnerable’ children. Who is a vulnerable child where there are no specific criteria for means testing? These are not even so well publicised for people to take advantage of.