Zambia’s educational reforms since Independence


FOLLOWING Zambia’s independence on October 24, 1964, the United National Independence Party (UNIP) government embarked on a number of reforms to address the social, political and economic inequalities among Africans that had resulted from European colonialism. One of the reforms needed at that time was aimed at giving education the first priority in the country’s development agenda.
As a newly-independent African country emerging from decades of colonialism and racial discrimination against Africans by Europeans, Zambia had aspirations for self-governance and equality of educational opportunities for all without any form of racial, tribal or religious affiliations. The country also faced a serious challenge of trained manpower.
Hence the educational system at independence had the critical objective to respond to the needs of national development. The government further realised the need for a young and newly-independent country to have an education system that promoted a sense of national identity and unity.
Therefore, the UNIP government embarked on an ambitious programme to build more schools countrywide. This saw the construction of secondary schools in each district of the country, technical and trade schools, teachers training colleges and other institutions of learning, including the University of Zambia (UNZA), which was built in 1966.
In May 1976, the public was involved in the formulation of the educational policy in form of a national debate which was launched by the first President, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda. The public debate culminated into the Educational Reform of 1977, which aimed at providing nine years of compulsory basic education, among its other features.
The government further formulated national development plans to address other educational needs of the newly-independent country. For instance, under the First National Development Plan (1966-1970), the UNIP government abolished school fees in secondary schools and also increased secondary school enrolments.
The Second National Development Plan (1972-1976) had estimated that the country would still not have the necessary education system that provided the learners with the necessary skills for the country’s development to its full potential.
The SNDP, therefore, sought to address the challenge of large numbers of school-leavers at the different levels of the education system without the adequate skills expected from them in the labour market (UNESCO, 1972).
The Third National Development Plan (1979-1983) had aimed at increasing educational facilities in the country while the Fourth National Development Plan (1989- 1993), although not fully executed by the UNIP government, aimed at improving the technical and agricultural aspects of education as well as the standard of mathematics and science subjects.
However, following the declining economy in the 1980s, the country had witnessed a negative effect on the provision of social services, including education. As a result, government institutions of learning experienced serious inadequate resources of all kinds, including materials to support the curriculum. In March 1990, Zambia attended the World Conference on Education for All in Jomtien, Thailand. Later in 1991 a National Conference on Education for All was held in Zambia where proposals and working strategies aimed at improving education delivery were drafted in a document entitled Focus on Learning. This policy document was used to lobby government and cooperating partners to consider allocating enough resources to the education sector in order to improve the quality and quantity of education in basic schools (GRZ, 2013).
In 1996, the government adopted another policy document entitled Educating Our Future as a national policy on education in Zambia. The policy document was conceived on the basis of the democratic principles of efficiency, equity, accountability and cost-effectiveness. To this effect, the policy seeks to liberalise and decentralise the education system in accordance with the democratic principles of local governance. However, in order to run a responsible and democratic education system, the education policy acknowledges the need to pay attention to capacity building and training, provision of infrastructure and equipment, logistics and adequate funding (GRZ, 1996). Further, Educating Our Future policy document seeks to promote cost sharing between government, beneficiaries and other stakeholders in the education system such as individuals, families, communities, industry and non-governmental organisations to the provision of education and training in the country to which government pledges to give the necessary support.
It is thus clear that since the country’s independence in 1964, government has made a number of efforts to address the inequities to ensure quality in education provision through various policies, national development plans and legislation. Zambia’s Vision 2030, which is a long-term national development plan, also provides a strategic focus for it to become “a prosperous middle-income nation”. To attain this vision there is no doubt that the role of quality education will be critical to attain the specific themes of Zambia’s vision by 2030.
As the country commemorates 54 years of independence, a number of challenges continue to face various social and economic sectors of our society. These challenges will no doubt require an effective education system that empowers learners to adequately deal with these challenges and also address the social and economic inequalities facing society. Our education system should provide learners with the necessary skills and knowledge that speak to the needs and aspirations of our society. Going forward, our country should endeavour to have an education system that instils values among citizens needed for our country to achieve national unity and sustainable social and economic development.
The author is a Zambia-based social commentator and blogger.

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