CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka
SIXTEEN-YEAR-OLD Eliezer Moyo is only in grade nine at Chongwe Basic School in Lusaka Province. But he is already dreaming big.
The boy wants to study engineering after completing secondary education.
Featuring in the Young and Ambitious column of the July 3, 2016 edition of the Sunday Mail, Eliezer said he is taking school seriously because he recognises education as the entry point to his dream career.
â€œI take school seriously and study very hard. I have no option but to get good results at Grade 12 so that it will be easy for me to be admitted to the University of Zambia (UNZA),â€ he said.
Eliezer should thank the government because it has made it easier for ambitious youths like him to pursue their dreams by widening their choice of which university to apply to.
Since the Patriotic Front (PF) won the September 2011 elections and took over from the MMD, it has prioritised education as a weapon against illiteracy and its offshoots of poverty and underdevelopment. Among some of the major policy and legal reforms the PF government has introduced to improve access to education are the creation of the Teaching Council of Zambia (TCZ) and the National Qualifications Authority (NQA).
For the first time in the history of this young republic, teachers will now be required to be registered with a professional body that will license them to practise their profession in Zambia.
This is partly aimed at improving the quality of teachers and the standard of education they deliver to learners.
President Lungu laid out some of the achievements the PF has chalked in the last five years when he addressed his second press conference at State House in Lusaka last May.
â€œIn a bid to increase access to education, we undertook to establish at least one university in each province, in addition to constructing technical colleges and trades training institutes,â€ the President said.
While on his campaign marathon in Luapula Province recently, he renamed Luapula University as Frederick Chiluba University whose construction is only awaiting the conclusion of the procurement process.
President Lungu said during the press conference that the construction works on Robert Makasa and Paul Mushindo universities in Muchinga Province were on course.
â€œIn Lusaka, work is in progress at Palabana and Chalimbana universities as well as Mukuba on the Copperbelt and Kwame Nkhrumah in Central Province. These have been upgraded from their original college status,â€ the President said.
This must have come as sweet music to the ears of both pupils and parents. Whereas in the past thousands of high-performing children had to compete for the few places at UNZA and the Copperbelt University (CBU), they will now be spoiled for choice.
Many brilliant but poor youths whose parents or guardians could not afford to send them to private universities in Zambia and yonder were condemned to settling for tertiary learning institutions offering inferior qualifications such as teacher colleges and vocational training schools despite their good results.
Many of them lost the hope of ever obtaining the kind of education and skills that could pluck them and their families out of poverty.
It is an open secret that in sub-Saharan Africa, education is the only certain way out of the cycle of generational poverty.
No wonder the PF government took the bold, albeit expensive, route of investing massive national resources in education.
It must be noted that this investment is not only benefitting school leavers but workers as well.
Many working men and women are currently studying at various universities that used to be colleges in the past to upgrade their qualifications and therefore increase their earning power.
Donâ€™t they say that improved academic and professional qualifications deliver a healthier personal and household economy and therefore reduce poverty?
The advent of distance education and e-learning has also helped brighten the future of these ambitious workers in various professions.
During his second state of the nation address, President Lungu explained why the PF is investing in education.
â€œOnce completed, the universities will broaden opportunities of access to university education and help decongest the existing three public universities,â€ he said.
â€œThis will in turn give us a mass of qualified individuals to provide the critical ingredient of human capital into the development agenda.â€
The President informed the nation that in the last three years, construction of trades training institutes had begun in Mwense, Mporokoso, Lundazi, Mumbwa, Sesheke, Kalabo and Isoka districts.
He said expansion and rehabilitation works were also underway at Chipata, Ukwimi, Choma, Kasiya and Northern Technical College (NORTECH).
Young people living in these rural districts now have hope of acquiring critical skills that will help them earn an income and contribute to national development.
The PF is aware that any development of the education sector should be holistic.
It is for this reason it has undertaken major infrastructure construction, upgrading and rehabilitation works to increase access to early childhood, primary and secondary education.
And the numbers are quite inspiring.
â€œIn the last five years, 1,526 early childhood education centres, especially in rural areas, have been constructed and are fully operational with total enrolment capacity of 70,000 learners [children],â€ President Lungu announced.
He said government is also upgrading 220 basic schools into secondary schools.
â€œThis will result in the creation of over 100,000 spaces for learners,â€ the President said.
What the head of State did not mention, however, is the fact that all these interventions have created hundreds of jobs for hitherto hopeless graduate teachers who would otherwise have been roaming the streets today.
These young men and women must understand better the meaning of the PFâ€™s popular slogan â€˜sonta apo wabomba [show us where you have worked]â€™.
President Lungu reported to the nation that besides expanding primary and basic school infrastructure, Government had by May this year completed the construction of 41 of the targeted 84 new secondary schools countrywide and that the remaining 43 were at various stages of construction.
Zambians have an opportunity to judge for themselves whether this record reflects a government that does not care about education or not as they cast their votes on August 11.