CHIMWEMWE MWALE, Lusaka
â€œA TEACHER is a distinguished and an integral member of society who selflessly builds the â€˜fliersâ€™ of the world. Think of great scientists such as Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton who invented the light bulb or great presidents that we have seen.
â€œWhere would they have been without a teacher in their lives?â€ asked Minister of Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Education John Phiri.
It is indeed a â€˜million-dollarâ€™ question that demands serious reflection although the answers are obvious to those familiar with the ghastly consequences of ignorance.
And as the world commemorates World Teachersâ€™ Day today, it is definitely a time to pose and carry introspection on the significance of teachers and the education sector at national and global platforms.
As Zambia celebrates her Golden Jubilee, the country has witnessed significant reforms in the teaching profession and the education sector as a whole which are worth highlighting on this day.
The World Teachersâ€™ Day is celebrated on October 5. The day was first commemorated in 1994 and is now observed by well over 100 countries, including Zambia.
This yearâ€™s theme â€˜Unite for quality education for a better tomorrowâ€™ highlights unifying forces in attaining quality education as a premise for a bright future, observed Dr Phiri during the official launch of the commemoration in Lusaka recently.
â€œA teacher is a national builder and actually helps in raising our children. A teacher inculcates values in children and helps them to explore their limitless potential in life. Unfortunately, many times we have failed to give teachers the distinguished honour they deserve,â€ he observed.
According to Dr Phiri, the commemoration of this day is also aimed at drumming up support for teachers across the world and ensures that the expectations of the future generations are professionally met by them.
A professional teacher ascribes to quality teaching in the classroom which results in quality education.
In previous years, Government concentrated on increasing access to education, a move that was applauded by the 2011 United Nations Education for All summit for attaining 100 percent enrolment at primary school.
Dr Phiri said Government is focused on improving the delivery of quality education to Zambians from early childhood to higher education through various interventions such as the recently created Teaching Council of Zambia (TCZ) and revision of the school curriculum, among others.
The TCZ was established with the aim of registering and enforcing education standards to enhance the delivery of quality education in Zambia.
â€œIt is through such bodies and numerous initiatives that the role of teachers will be appreciated and given the honour they aspire for,â€ the minister said.
Change in the medium of instruction at primary school level from grade one to four from English to familiar Zambian languages is also one of the recent radical changes.
This move is aimed at ensuring that learners demonstrate literacy in English and a Zambian/sign language, literacy skills, ICT and life skills.
The minister also pointed out the introduction of two career pathways at junior secondary level: an academic and vocational path.
This is intended to provide learners with an option to pursue learning in an area of their choice and also enhance vocational skills acquisition including computer studies.
â€œThe revised education curriculum has already started yielding positive results as we witness how learners are easily learning by the use of familiar languages as media of instructions.
â€œThe revised curriculum and other bodies established by Government will foster the provision of quality without compromise,â€ Dr Phiri said.
And reflecting on the commemoration, Ministry of Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Education spokesperson Hilary Chipango further spelt out some significant reforms in the teaching profession and the education sector as a whole.
Mr Chipango said Government has formulated some interventions to prepare teachers for the role they must play to prepare students for a future that requires them to embrace science and technology.
This is also to enable citizens compete in a world regarded as a global village.
In 2011, Government introduced the fast-track teacher education upgrading programme with three local universities.
â€œUNZA enrolled 600 mathematics and science teachers while Lusaka University enrolled 79 for business studies. Zambia Open University enrolled 250 for social sciences using the distance learning mode,â€ Mr Chipango said.
At the start of 2014, the Ministry of Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Education signed a memorandum of understanding with the DMI Saint Eugene University aimed at supporting Government to improve competences of teachers at all levels by upgrading their academic qualifications.
DMI Saint Eugene University enrolled 2,000 teachers, 200 from each of the 10 provinces of the country.
â€œ405 were enrolled for certificate and diploma in primary school education while 398 were registered for Diploma and Bachelor of Sciences in primary school education.
â€œ415 enrolled in diploma and Bachelor of Sciences in secondary school education while 392 enrolled for either secondary diploma in mathematics or Bachelor of Sciences in secondary education,â€ Mr Chipango tabulated.
Another cadre of 390 teachers registered for secondary diploma in social sciences or Bachelor of Arts in secondary education.
Mr Chipango said the teachers will continue serving in their schools while studying through the virtual and distance learning.
The teaching profession has also seen some radical reforms through the establishment of institutions such as the Zambia Qualification Authority under Act number 13 of 2011.
Others are the establishment of the Teaching Council of Zambia under the Zambia Qualification Authority Act number 13 of 2011 and the Higher Education Authority under the Higher Education Act number four of 2013.
He said there are also new opportunities opening up for Zambians through the upgrading of 220 basic schools into secondary schools with each province getting 20.
Another conspicuous development in the education sector is the establishment of new universities.
Institutions such as Kwame Nkrumah, Mukuba (formerly Copperbelt Secondary School College) and Chalimbana have all been upgraded from colleges of education to universities.
It is envisaged that the Robert Kapasa Makasa Science and Technology University in Chinsali will open its doors to the public in 2015.
Palabana, Paul Mushindo and King Lewanika universities are currently under construction.
Other institutions under construction are university colleges for technology in Solwezi, mathematics and science in Nalolo and the one for applied arts in Katete.
The picture of the countryâ€™s education sector after 50 years is irrefutably bright as the country only had 107 university graduates in 1964 who were all trained abroad.
CHIMWEMWE MWALE, Lusaka