The PF government announcement and directive to the Ministry of General Education to complete the decentralisation and devolution policy of separating the Education Standards and Administration departments by the end of January 2017 is long overdue and should be commended.This devolution will see primary schools administeredÂ Â by the Local Government through the district councils. This international standard is long overdue in Zambia and will uplift the quality and standards of education. Primary schools are the foundation of every education system in the world and research indicates that what happens to the pupils while in primary school determines their future interest in acquiring formal education. With primary schools under the local goverment, the separation of education standards from administration departments will enhance the management of the education sector in the country.
The separation of education administration and standards departments is long overdue because the Education Act 2011 recommended this and Part X deals with the Enforcement of Quality and Standards in Education in Zambia and if what is contained in this part was strictly adhered to, the education standards in schools in Zambia would not be at the current levels.Â The current situation in as far as education quality andÂ standards are concerned is that less than ten percent of the total number of pupils in primary and secondary schools have the right level of education required at that level of the education system. And this is where the work of Education Standards officers begins because the law stipulates that it is their duty to ensure that every pupil who is at school has the correct level of knowledge, numeracy and ability to read required at that level of the education system and each teacher is responsible and accountable to the teaching and learning required at that level.
When Zambians cry that the quality and standards of education have fallen in the country, what they actually mean is that there is so much disparity between the number of years a pupil has been at school and the levels of knowledge, numeracy and ability to read that the pupil has attained at that particular level. It is a tragedy and a social disaster that the majority of pupils completing Grade 12 in government schools can hardly read or write in any language, pupils completing Grade 9 cannot even spell basic words or divide and multiply and pupils completing Grade 7 cannot even memorize their seven digit examination number and pupils at grade 4 hardly know the names of the 10 provinces in Zambia.
The majority of pupils in both government and private schools are in this education status because the national education management system in Zambia has placed education standard officers at district, provincial and national level who are responsible for monitoring, evaluation and enforcing adherence to set quality and standards of education in schools to be subservient to education administrators such as the district education board secretaryâ€™s and Provincial Education Officers who control the allocation of funds and determine which education administration and standard activities can take place. Naturally, education administrative activities such as workshops, touring schools and conducting meetings have been given priority over the enforcement of quality and standards of education in schools. This education management system is responsible for the current poor education quality and standards in the country and must come to an end.
If the country is to see any improvement in education quality and standards especially in government schools, colleges and universities, the Education Standards Officers have to become autonomous and strictly operate as prescribed in Part X of the Education Act 2011. This part of the Education Act 2011 is very clear about how as public officers, education standards officers are supposed to ensure high standards and quality of education at educational institutions are maintained and ensure that education administrators comply with the provisions of the law and other education policies issued from time to time by the Education minister and permanent secretary.
There is no doubt that as a country, Zambia has done very well in terms of education administration because both primary and secondary schools have been built and upgraded, especially in the last five years of the PF Government. The schools and other education institutions in the country are now managed by the most educated Zambians of this generation and teachers are fairly well educated but it is the enforcement of quality and standards in education where the country has not done well. The main reason for this has been this lacuna where education administration has been deemed to be more important than enforcement of quality and standards of education.
With re-emphasis on decentralisation and devolution policy in the education sector by the PF government, it will not take long before Zambians begin to see an improvement in the quality and standards of education in schools, colleges and universities in the country. What is cardinal at this stage is to ensure that this education decentralisation and devolution process is not frustrated by those bent on maintaining the current status quo and those resisting this long overdue change and making sure that from now onwards those in the education standards and administration departments clearly understand their roles and responsibilities and as stipulated in the education Act 2011.
The author is an international associate, African Centre for Disaster Studies.