DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka
ONE of the silent killers attacking the developing world is the lack of education for large numbers of the poorest children in the worldâ€™s poorest countries, Zambia inclusive.
Yet, unlike many of the worldâ€™s most grievous ailments, this is a disease with a known cure. It is known what tools are needed and what models are proven to work.
It is also know that the cost of that cure, perhaps the annual budgetary allocation per year, is tiny compared to the enormous benefits such education would bring for health, economics, womenâ€™s empowerment, and basic human dignity.
As the year ends, we take a look at Governmentâ€™s commitment to this cure beginning with the allocation in the 2015 national budget.
For the year 2015, government increased the budgetary allocation to the education sector for the year 2015 from last yearâ€™s K8.61 billion to K9.4 billion, which represents a 20.2 percent of the total budget.
In his budgetary speech, Minister of Finance Alexander Chikwanda said 68 percent of the allocation was for the recruitment of 5,000 teachers and to sustain the current establishment.
Mr Chikwanda explained that the move to allocate over 20 percent of the budget to the education sector is aimed at reducing the pupil-teacher ratio.
Of the K9.4 billion, K1.1 billion went towards the infrastructure development for early childhood, primary and secondary education.
The year 2015 has seen government earmarking over K650 million for the rehabilitation and expansion of the public higher education infrastructure country-wide.
In the year 2015, government embarked on the construction of five new universities namely King Lewanika University in Mongu, Luapula University in Mansa, Solwezi University College of Science and Technology in Solwezi, Nalolo University College of Science and Mathematics and Petauke University College of Applied Arts in Eastern province.
â€œThe universities at Solwezi, Nalolo and Katete will be constructed with the additional support of external financing. And the upgrading of Palabana University in Lusaka Province,â€ Minister of Higher education Dr Michael Kaingu said in a ministerial statement in March 2015.
Government also started the construction of Paul Mushindo and Robert Makasa universities in Muchinga Province.
Dr Kaingu further confirmed that the ministry is now implementing the Higher Education Act No. 4 of 2013 and the Zambia Qualifications Authority Act No. 13 of 2011.
â€œThe authority will draft a quality assurance system for higher education in Zambia. It will also state the criteria and guidelines for the registration of private universities and accrediting higher education learning programmes,â€ he said.
Dr Kaingu said the Zambia Qualifications Authority will be the custodian of all qualifications country-wide to manage the qualification framework.
The minister also said that the three existing public universities, namely University of Zambia, Copperbelt University and Mulungushi University, and Evelyn Hone College of Applied Arts and Commerce will soon see infrastructure upgraded through expansion of student accommodation with about 10, 000 bed spaces being created at the four institutions.
â€œWe recognise that our existing higher education institutions are currently faced with major financial, human resource and infrastructure challenges,â€ Dr Kaingu said.
The zeal to upgrade infrastructure in the education sector was necessitated by the enrolment stagnation two decades ago.
Against a background of enrolment stagnation from the mid to late 1990s, Zambia has since 2000 to date opened the door for more than 1.2 million additional learners to the primary school system.
The phenomenal growth in access to education is the result of four decisive factors: Pragmatic policy initiatives to counteract factors limiting participation, particularly among poverty stricken groups; increased budgetary allocations to the education sector; communities taking action given the magnitude of the challenges the government faced in providing educational services; and concerted action from the international community.
The combination of these measures has enabled the country to meet key milestones outlined in Zambiaâ€™s 2005 Education for All (EFA) operational framework.
Ministry of Education permanent secretary Chishimba Nkosha says addressing all six EFA goal areas, the government has been able to make new funding commitments to education and taken policy action to institute measures to expand opportunities in early learning, primary and secondary education.
Indeed, the education sector receives the largest budgetary allocation at approximately 20 percent of the total national budget. About 68 percent of this allocation goes towards personnel emoluments leaving just below a third of the budget for other non-personnel emolument programmes. Coupled with other demographic challenges, access remains a huge challenge in high-density areas as school places are still insufficient. Long distances between schools in rural areas also limit access, particularly for children in the early grades, and this is further complicated by migratory and resettlement practices brought about by economic imperatives.
The governmentâ€™s decision to expand early learning services is intended to provide access to more children early. Community action has been crucial in this regard. Since 2000, communities, working with civil society organisations and co-operating partners, have helped to create over 550,000 new places through the establishment of community schools.
With the expansion of school enrolments, challenges of improving the quality and relevance of education have arisen. Over the Fifth National Development Plan period, (2006 â€“ 2010) Zambia set the target of hiring 5,000 teachers annually to reduce high pupil- teacher ratios, particularly in rural areas.
The government has also taken steps, including improving conditions of service and requiring teachers to serve a minimum two years before requesting to be moved, to reduce teacher attrition which tends to be high in rural areas. The persistence of low learning achievement scores across the board, however, shows that more needs to be done.
Accordingly, Zambia has prioritised quality and relevance for its post-2015 agenda for education. Key to this agenda is the execution of the recently introduced primary school curriculum and the two-tier education system that offers academic and skills education.
In this regard, the government wishes to reaffirm its unequivocal commitment to ensuring that any child pushed out of the educational system will have an alternative opportunity to continue with their acquisition of skills and knowledge.
As in its pursuit of access, the government will continue to call on the contributions of communities, co-operating partners and the private sector in addressing issues of quality and relevance. The next decade will still be challenging because the country will continue to tackle access due to population growth while trying to improve quality.
The challenges for the educational sector will increase in view of globalisation and the importance of knowledge for nations to be competitive.
Investments in human capital and the quality of such investments will play a decisive role in determining the productivity of any country and resulting economic fortunes.
DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka