Analysis: KABANDA MWANSA
FIFTY-FOUR years after independence, Zambia’s education sector is retrogressing.
This situation, unfortunately, resonates with most public sector institutions in Zambia which are malfunctioning and need a serious overhaul.
The recent down-grading of all Zambian university qualifications to that of college level by the Oxford and Cambridge universities gives a clear signal about the country’s deteriorating education standards.
Needless to mention here that the Zambian education system is based on emphasising the passing of an examination rather than pupils and students internalising the values of education so that in turn, those values could be used to improve the standards in the different sectors of our own society.
The system is built on a rather inane and archaic tradition of brainwashing pupils and students to be very examination-oriented, where it is a foregone conclusion that only those that come out with the best results in the examinations are the only ones who will end up with having a good and productive life. Thus pupils and students are always making strategies of not focusing on the educational contents and value for developmental use, but for passing the examination that is before them, which in other words could be called a cramming system of education.
Teachers, too, on the other hand, are equally to blame because, mostly, they teach with an objective of making their pupils and students pass examinations rather than internalising the contents.
The dominant value in the Zambian educational sector has highly shifted from that which should produce graduates with a conscience, requisite knowledge, skills and positive attitudes to that which has so much more focus on getting over the examination hurdle, and having a good life thereafter, thus forsaking the inculcation of societal values.
The focus of most graduates in our society is to get good results in an examination and find a job in a prestigious organisation without any motive or motivation for contributing to the uplifting of the standards of these institutions but to amass personal wealth and live a good life.
Consequently, pupils and students will stop at nothing to pass an examination at all costs, thus the dependency on examination leakages and favour from teachers and lecturers is now a ‘normal imperative’. What is missing from the education system today, is a shared vocabulary, based on shared positive human values, which can provide a sense of direction and vision about how to create a stable moral society free of corruption, free of examination leakages.
The Ministry of General Education should consider scrapping the Grade 7 and Grade 9 compulsory examinations as they just put unnecessary pressure on pupils, teachers and the Examinations Council of Zambia (ECZ) in preparing and implementing them. These two categories of examinations in Zambia have completely lost meaning and have just remained a nursery for learning how to organise an examination leakage at a tender age.
These two categories of examinations were originally designed to sieve pupils so as to be in conformity with the few available spaces in the few secondary schools that were available at the time. But with the current scenario in Zambia today where there has been a quantum increase in secondary schools, the Ministry of Education should allow everyone to proceed to Grade 12 without sitting for a “must pass” compulsory examination. That will make everyone go further in school even if one does not manage to reach the famous (or infamous) cut-off point.
Therefore, the first examination that should render one not to go further with basic education should be at Grade 12 level; 12 years of formal schooling should officially be declared as Zambia’s basic education for every citizen. Those who reach a certain cut-off point during the Ordinary (O) Level examinations or the local Zambian General Certificate of Education (GCE) in Grade 12 should then proceed to Grade 13 (or Form Six) to do Advanced (A) Levels before getting into colleges and universities. This way, Zambia will again start getting quality students in colleges and universities who, apart from being academically sound, will highly appreciate value and self-reflection, which are the building blocks for every great nation.
In the current scenario, these examinations do nothing constructive apart from creating opportunities and excuses for young children to stop school. Moreover, no employer will demand for a Grade 7 or Grade 9 certificate in today Zambia, but a Grade 12 certificate or higher.
The Ministry of General Education should either scrap the Grade 7 and 9 examinations or stop making them mandatory for one to proceed to Grade 8 and 10. These examinations can then be organised at provincial or district levels as a way of monitoring the progress of pupils.
This will give ECZ ample time to focus on O level and A level examinations only, giving them efficiency and credibility, as the Grade 7 and 9 examinations are decentralised. This move will equally save resources that could be used to build more schools because the preparation, implementation and marking of these examinations gobbles colossal amounts of money every year.
However, for these government schools to improve in standards, influential people in society like political leaders should consider taking their children to these schools, as it was in the UNIP era, when even the president’s children went to government schools.
Currently, standards in government schools are so bad that even teachers avoid taking their children there because the standards are pathetic. But how can the standards improve when all the decision and policy makers have no children in these schools? They absolutely have no interest there.
One of the reasons the authorities have failed to control the mushrooming of private schools, colleges and universities is that some top government officials and political office bearers have direct or indirect interest in some of these counterfeit institutions. There is no effective system whatsoever to monitor and control these new “learning” spaces.
I know that there are institutions that have been tasked with the responsibility of standardising these spaces, but unfortunately some of the individuals in these institutions have been compromised by either being offered executive board positions that naturally come with allowances or being on the payroll of the institution they are supposed to control.
There must be a government policy to deter any official or political office bearer from being a stakeholder in any private learning institution in order to make the institutions more efficient, credible and value-based. Such institutions will in turn act as platforms on which pupil/students and members of staff alike develop and deepen their understanding of issues concerned with ethics, morality and genuine development, which Zambia earnestly needs.
The author is a social commentator and PhD research fellow at the Centre for Child and Youth Competence Development at Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences.
Analysis: KABANDA MWANSA