Editor's Comment

Illiteracy time bomb!

FORMER United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan said “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family”.
Another African icon, Nelson Mandela, said education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
From the sayings of these two great African leaders, it is evident that education plays a pivotal role in the development of individuals, families, communities, nations and the world at large.
Research indicates that for a country to develop, at least 40 percent of its citizens must be literate.
Given such facts, it is depressing to learn that the number of children out of school has increased from 100,000 in 2001 to one million in 2019.
Having one million children out of school is a time bomb which, if not deflated in time, will blow in our faces.
Given that education is an equaliser and a premise on which progress can be made, it means these one million children will never have an opportunity to progress in life unless efforts are made to take them back to school.
Those who come from poverty-stricken families will never have an opportunity to break the yoke of poverty over their lives.
In this case poverty will become intergenerational – transmitted from one generation to another.
If these one million children grow up to have children, the chances are more that they will fail to educate them.
For a country like Zambia which so desperately needs development, having an educated citizenry is not an option.
As long as the country has huge numbers of illiterate citizens, its development journey will be derailed.
This is because it is the collective responsibility of citizens to develop a country. And citizens can only contribute meaningfully to the development of the country if they attain an education – a powerful tool for bringing about transformation.
Government is cognisant of the importance of education and has been working to ensure access for all.
For instance, it has embarked on a massive infrastructure development programme under which many schools are being constructed across the country.
This is to ensure that more children, especially those in rural areas, have access to schools within manageable distances.
Government has also been working to improve enrolment as well as increase retention of school drop-outs through favourable policies such as re-entry for girls who fall pregnant.
Government has also made it easy for people who do not fare well in examinations to improve their results through GCE.
Besides creating a conducive environment for private universities to spring up and thrive, Government has also built more public universities to supplement the University of Zambia and Copperbelt University, which were the only institutions of higher learning for a very long time.
By this, Government is trying to allow more brilliant Grade 12 certificate holders to advance their education and subsequently contribute to national development.
To help those students from poor backgrounds, Government also provides bursaries and loans. It is, however, unfortunate that these bursaries and loans have been hijacked by the elite who can afford to pay for themselves to the exclusion of many who are genuinely in need.
While Government has been working tirelessly to make education accessible to all in line with the sustainable development goals, the task is too daunting to shoulder alone.
As Government takes the lead in providing education, other stakeholders must also come on board to ensure more impact.
It is a known fact that causes of school dropouts are diverse requiring different strategies and from different stakeholders.
Among the major reasons for school dropouts is poverty, long distance to schools, teen pregnancies, delinquency and limited school places and infrastructure.
We therefore commend stakeholders such as the Zambia Open Community Schools (ZOCS) for supplementing Government’s efforts in improving the quality of education in the country.
ZOCS is supporting 935 schools in 79 districts providing education to over 200,000 learners. Such efforts are worth emulating.
Families and the Church as stakeholders also have a role to play to ensure that children do not drop out of school due to delinquency and teen pregnancies by imparting values to them.
Churches, like others are already doing, should also supplement Government’s efforts by supporting the vulnerable in society.
The corporate world as major beneficiaries of human resource must also come on board to provide sponsorship and mentorship programmes in schools, especially those in rural areas.
The burden to rid the country of illiteracy lies squarely on all stakeholders. It is only through concerted efforts that access to education will be enhanced for the good of the country.

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