The education Zambia needs

Zambia attained political independence from Britain in 1964 but despite 52 years of self-rule and a rising number of graduates from the country’s learning institutions, not much has been achieved in the area of economic independence. The country still lacks in-depth technical know-how to exploit its huge natural resource potential and its economy continues to rely heavily on the production of raw materials, on imports and donor support.
Like most other African countries, Zambia has not devoted much effort to reviewing the relevance to the country of the knowledge being conveyed in her schools following her political independence.
Increasing access to education has often taken priority over quality issues like the reconstruction of the curriculum because that is what wins votes during elections.
However, people are now increasingly becoming disillusioned and are starting to question the relevance of the present system. Many young people are completing education even up to university level only to return to their villages and cities, where they join increasing cohorts of the unemployed.
There are also questions as to why countries like South Korea, which were poorer than Zambia at independence in 1964, have risen to join the league of the industrialised nations while Zambia seems to be in neutral gear. While most people acknowledge the inadequacies of the present education system, there seems to be no consensus on both the definition of what constitutes a quality education system and on the means of attaining it.
The older generation seems to define quality education in terms of school-leavers or graduates’ acquisition of practical usable skills. Their contention is  that unlike the indigenous education system (village-type) which taught the youth how to farm, hunt, fish, prepare food, build houses and run homes, the current educational approach lays too much emphasis on theories and too little on practical skills.
Thus the re-introduction of the post-secondary school National Youth Service Scheme, abandoned over three decades ago, is being proposed as a remedy for this because it equipped its graduates with practical craft skills such as bricklaying, carpentry, welding and so on which made self-employment easier.
Some sections of society define the quality of education on the basis of graduates’ mastery of the English language and their ability to deal with basics such as letter writing and awareness of current local and global affairs.
The more British or American a graduate’s accent sounds, the more educated he/she is considered to be even if they may be of no value in terms of providing practical solutions to societal problems around them.
The quality of the education system has also been appraised in terms of preservation of the country’s culture and languages. It is contended that the present education system lays too much emphasis on the English language and aping of the Western culture which not only affects learner effectiveness but also is a sign of colonial hang-over and of disrespect for the natives.
Drawing inspiration from the Phelps-Stokes Commission’s 1924 report which made a strong case for local languages, there are increasing calls to make Zambian languages more prominent in the school curriculum as a way of improving the quality of learner effectiveness and of reclaiming self-respect or preserving the country’s identity.
The 1924 report concluded that: “With full appreciation of the European language, the value of the native tongue is immensely more vital, in that it is one of the chief means of preserving whatever is good in native customs, ideas and ideals, and thereby preserving what is more important than all else, namely native self-respect.
“All peoples have an inherent right to their own language…No greater injustice can be committed against a people than to deprive them of their own language.”
Given these many opinions and definitions, what sort of education system does Zambia really need? And what should be the parameters for measuring the quality and relevance of Zambia’s education system?
The answers to the above questions lie in the country’s vision. Where is Zambia as a country going?  What does the country seek to become 5, 10, 50 or 100 years from now?
According to the Vision 2030, “by 2030, Zambians aspire to live in a strong and dynamic middle-income industrialised nation that provides opportunities for the well-being of all, embodying values of socio-economic justice underpinned by the principles of gender responsive sustainable development, democracy, respect for human rights, good traditional and family values, positive attitude towards work, peaceful coexistence and private-public partnerships.”
Zambians aspire to build an economy which is competitive, self-sustaining, dynamic and resilient to any external shocks, free from donor dependence, technologically proficient, diversified and balanced with strong industrial and modern agricultural sectors, and one which is economically, socially and politically integrated within the sub-region, Africa and the rest of the world.
In light of this vision, even though raising the prominence of Zambian local languages in schools may help the natives in maintaining their identity, it does not help the country’s quest for economic, social and political integration within the sub-region, Africa and the rest of the world.
Introducing an additional more widely spoken international language would be more beneficial for global integration and for boosting Zambians’ chances of getting jobs in multilateral organisations, where knowledge of at least two international working languages is often mandatory for employment.
Building a technologically proficient, competitive and diversified economy with a strong industrial and modern agricultural sector requires increased investment in research and development (R&D).
(To be continued)
The author is a finance specialist and director at one of Africa’s leading banking brands.

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