Columnists Features

Basic dimensions of quality education

THE Human Rights Commission (HRC), through its State of Human Rights Report in Zambia, has expressed concern over the quality of education offered, especially in public schools.
Though there has been a great improvement in terms of access to education since the 1990s, with Government building additional schools in all parts of the country, these “buildings will also require teachers and learning materials,” the report states (Daily Mail, Monday February 15, 2016, p. 4).
It is a valid concern.
Teacher unions, too, have observed something – over-enrolment. Analysing the low pass rates for the 2015 grade nine and 12 examinations, particularly in Lusaka and on the Copperbelt, the unions have concluded that over-enrolment has greatly contributed to the high pupil-teacher ratio, thereby negatively affecting the quality of education.
They have also stated that besides congestion in schools, increasing indiscipline levels among pupils have also contributed to the low pass rates in the two provinces (Daily Mail, Wednesday February 17, 2016, p. 10).
It is not only the HRC, Basic Teachers Union of Zambia and Zambia National Teachers Union that have expressed worry about the challenge of quality in schools. The Zambia Agency for Persons with Disabilities has also indicated that most disabled persons live in poverty because of lack of access to proper education, among other challenges.
Clearly, the issue is about improving the quality of education, which is crucial in empowering citizens with knowledge and skills that are needed for their positive contribution towards the socio-economic development of the country.
But what does quality mean in the context of education?
To answer this important question, we shall look at the general consensus that exists around the basic dimensions of all learning that is considered to be efficient and effective (as suggested by UNICEF at the International Working Group on Education, Italy, 2000). According to Adams (1993), efficiency, effectiveness and quality have often been used synonymously.
Firstly, the rights of the learner – to survival, protection, development and participation – should be at the centre of the education system. “This means that the focus is on learning which strengthens the capacities of [learners] to act progressively on their own behalf through the acquisition of relevant knowledge, useful skills and appropriate attitudes” (Bernard, 1999).
The health of a student is crucial to attaining quality education. Whether in a boarding or day school, a child should be healthy, well-nourished and ready to participate in school activities with the support of the family and the community.
Environments in which the learner spends most of his or her time – home as well as school – are expected to be healthy, safe, gender-sensitive, and must offer students all necessary resources and facilities for them to easily acquire knowledge and skills offered.
Curriculums that place emphasis on literacy as the foundation on which everything else is developed will go a long way in helping individuals to build various skills for life. It is also upon this basis that knowledge acquired is effectively utilised in all areas of life, including health, gender, nutrition, HIV/AIDS prevention and sustenance of peace in society, among others.
If schools, particularly public ones, stopped over-enrolling and tried to balance the pupil-teacher ratios, like what most private schools do, educators would be helped in terms of attaining high levels of efficiency and effectiveness. But with a class of 60 students, a mathematics or biology teacher will surely achieve very little, as quality is obviously compromised.
Small classes offer trained teachers a great opportunity to use learner-centred teaching methods. This helps them involve everyone in planned activities, impart knowledge and skills, and easily carry out assessments in form of exercises and tests, thereby facilitating learning and reducing disparities among students.
In addition, highly motivated teachers and other staff within the school are likely to produce great results in their work. Their conditions of service are closely related to other school quality issues, such as enough instructional materials and textbooks (with well-stocked libraries), use of computer technologies, and well-established school buildings, including sanitary facilities.
Location of schools also matters a lot as far as provision of quality education is concerned. Unless it’s a boarding school, parents may find it difficult to send their children, especially girls, to an institution that is too far away from home. Distance from school also affects a learner’s participation. Therefore, this may affect quality as well.
“Order, constructive discipline and reinforcement of positive behaviour communicate a seriousness of purpose to students” (Craig, Kraft & du Plessis, 1998).
The above basic dimensions and others can surely help us attain the much-needed quality education that should enable us equip ourselves and our children with relevant skills, knowledge, values, attitudes, respect for human rights and competencies for innovation and employment opportunities.

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