By MWAPE MUSONDA
NELSON Mandela once said that education is the most powerful weapon which humanity can use to change the world. There is no doubt that the universe in its entirety agrees with this statement in all ways of understanding.
Education is indeed the most effective tool that can be employed to change the world either for the best or worst. The simple principle is that when people are denied education, they are denied their freedom and the opposite is true to those that are educated.
We must appreciate that education does not only free those who acquire it but also changes the world they live in and, therefore, any attempt to deprive people of education is an assault on the development agenda of every society.
Our country is also cognisant of this fact and since independence our leaders have been implementing policies that aim to improve equal access to education for all citizens.
And as we celebrate our golden jubilee I am confident to say that we have scored some success as far as improving access to education is concerned despite the large numbers of uneducated children both in rural and urban areas.
I dare say am proud of our leaders because before our independence education was a preserve for the whites only in our country. Our colonial masters knew that once educated, the black Northern Rhodesians would seek freedom and they kept education within their circles until 1964.
According to a report published by the United Nations, the Economic Commission for Africa and the Food and Agricultural Organisation in 1963, Northern Rhodesia was bound to be faced with lack of skilled manpower on its independence because of its uneducated citizens.
The report stated that by 1963, there were only 110,200 living persons who had obtained six years of education in African schools.
A total of 32,000 Africans had completed the full primary school course of eight years; only 4,420 had passed the two-year Junior Secondary School Course (Form II) and a mere 961 were known to have passed the Cambridge School Certificate Examination (Form V).
On the eve of its independence, Zambia compared unfavourably with other former British dependent territories in terms of available local educated manpower.
While Zambia could count only 1,200 Zambians with full Secondary School Certificates in 1964, Ghana had reached this target before 1943, at least fourteen years before its independence. Kenya and Tanzania had attained this target in 1,957 and 1960, respectively.
These statistics were terrifying not only to our leaders but also to our colonial masters because they knew that it was almost an impossible task for Dr Kaunda and his team to steer Zambiaâ€™s economy after independence.
Our leaders, however, did not let these challenges get in their way for they immediately devised and rolled out programmes to increase education access by all citizens.
The government introduced free education and also free access to all necessary education materials from grade one up to university level.
This policy saw a rapid increase in the literacy levels of our general citizenry and when our first university (UNZA) was opened in 1966 we had a surge in the number of degree graduates with skills necessary to meet the needs of our economy.
And now 50 years down the line our country trains almost all its skilled labour force locally. Zambia trains its own doctors and other medical personnel in a locally-devised programme and we can proudly boast about their competency because they are appreciated even by our colonisers, Britain.
The same goes to our teachers, engineers and lawyers who are all internationally accepted as competent professionals. As a country we need to commend ourselves for this success because we are not only training professionals for our needs but also for the world at large.
Going forward, I would like to make an appeal to the business community to start embracing the locally devised business programmes.
Many organisations in our country would rather engage someone with a foreign acquired business qualification than one with an equivalent local qualification.
I am confident that personnel trained in the local programmes are even more efficient than those with foreign programmes and once we start appreciating them we will not only raise the profile of our local programmes but also that of the general education system in our country.
Happy golden jubilee and God bless.
The author is a humanism activist and Zambia Institute of Charted AccountantsÂ Licentiate Student.
By MWAPE MUSONDA