Educating our Future – Today

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The Zambian Constitution in part reads, “The sate shall endeavour to provide equal and adequate educational opportunities in all fields at all levels for all.”

It was in 1996 too that the underlying policy document entitled “Educating Our Future” was formulated.

One of the postulates of this policy was to waive grade 7 composite examinations – paving a way for automatic promotion to grade 8 depending on availability of school places. The rationale being that pupils would be evaluated and assessed using the School Based Assessment (SBA) system thereby rendering the necessity of the composite examinations void.

24 years down the road, SBA has been introduced; first for Grades 9 and 12 only and pertaining to practical subjects only as of 2019, and to include primary schools beginning 2020. While SBA is a welcome development, I observe with sadness that the Ministry of General Education (MOGE) has shied away from waiving grade 7 diagnostic and evaluative examinations as envisaged in ‘Educating Our Future’ – 1996:

“Within complete basic schools, school-based assessment would perform the evaluative and diagnostic functions currently associated with the Grade 7 composite Examination”.

“The Ministry will introduce standardized school-based assessment procedures for use in basic schools where pupils do not sit for the Grade 7 composite Examination”.

The MOGE vision is “to provide quality lifelong education for all, which is accessible, inclusive, equitable and relevant to individual, national and global needs”. In order to achieve this goal, for all intents and purposes, the nation needs to increase access to quality education. The fundamental being availability of classroom spaces, well qualified and motivated teachers and availability of relevant teaching materials. While the government has made strides in this regard, we are still a long way to go.

As at 1996, there was room in grade 8 for only one third of those who completed grade 7! Are we better today? If so, to what extent? The surest way of ensuring 100% transition to grade 8 is to:

Create more classroom space in grades 8 to 12 rapidly as an emergency.

Waive grade 7 composite examinations which only serve to systematically drop children out of school. This is because cut of points are based on availability of spaces not on a child’s scholastic abilities.

Moreover, the MOGE should pay attention to the fact that the senior secondary syllabus can be effectively completed in 2 years. It follows that we can knock out Grade 12 – and direct resources elsewhere.

One wishes the nation could accelerate towards actualising the elusive Education for All – whose initial target was 2015. We know where we stand, we can still reset and trigger this by waiving not only grade 7 examinations, but grade 9 examinations too. That requires more schools, more teachers and related resources. We have done well but not enough. We remind ourselves of well written policy documents such as the Education Act of 2011 and the National Impersonation Framework III which committed to provision of free education for grades 1-7 and for grades 1-12 respectively.

Commendable is the establishment of Teaching Council of Zambia, Qualifications Authority, and development of Early Childhood Development Care Education (ECCDE) curriculum among others. The ECCDE curriculum was developed in 2013 but how many early child education centres do we have? How many of these are state owned? Most are privately owned, others run by NGOs and Churches. Most of these are operating as pre-schools not providing envisaged holistic early child learning programs and are concentrated in urban areas – not to mention that they are expensive.

Moreover, as at 1996, only 30% of all those who had enrolled for Grade 1 twelve years earlier completed grade 12! At the same time, as at 1996, only 20% of grade 12 completers had access to tertiary education! Are we so much better today with so many tertiary institutions? Not quite because of the cost factor and our rate of population growth.

This country needs to embark on an unprecedented education infrastructure development if we are to realise education equity at all levels. Recall, less than 30% of those who enter grade 1 complete secondary education! This is a crisis and it can’t be worse than this.

Education is the engine for economic growth as reflected in vision 2030 and in our 7th National Development Plan. How are we going to achieve these objectives if we continue pushing children out of school at grades 7 and 9 not because they are untrainable but because they do not meet the cut-off points which are predicated on availability of classroom space? We remind ourselves of the fact that the 7NDP commits to ensuring that no citizen is left behind in accessing education.

If we are to improve quality of our education outcomes, we should:

Reduce the pupil teacher ratios and class pupil ratios. This will enable teachers to give near – adequate attention to individual learners’ needs.

Reduce the number of classes each teacher handles. If this is not done, teachers will continue to spend most of their work and after work hours’ time marking pupils work thereby leaving no time for research, hold peer review meetings to improve performance etc. The low number of teachers who routinely write lesson plans is borne out of too little time available for a teachers to do that. They move from class to class and have to mark so many exercise books and so much homework and prepare for and mark tests etc.

Teacher training institutions – all of them should ensure that teachers are able to competently teach full curriculum syllabus content for all their teaching subjects. During training, trainee teachers should be exposed to regular examination papers for their teaching subjects. It follows that teacher training curriculum should be in tandem with current school curriculum even as they cover more advanced content in their teaching subjects. Continuous Professional Development (CPD) currently in place can only help to deal with certain topical issues but cannot be an adequate substitute for the role played by the colleges and universities. It’s not uncommon to find teachers of Chemistry who struggle with teaching limiting reagents in Stoichiometry and the Mole Concept, others struggle with predicting the position of equilibrium for reversible reactions. Likewise, many teachers of physics are not competent enough to teach basic Electronics – they only teach logic gates and truth tables but fail to interpret circuits involving a combination of logic gates.

As a teacher, as we celebrate 56 years of independence, I wish to see us use human capital development as, our main resource and tool to spur economic diversification and usher in economic development to emulate the examples of Singapore and Malaysia who were as impoverished as we were at Independence in 1964.

We have what it takes. We have the political will to do this as reflected in various policy documents. We should then quicken the pace of implementing ‘Educating Our Future’ envisioned in 1996 by educating our present citizens to produce an educated future generation who will repeat the chain.

This will take more than the government. Community players, especially well established Mega Churches with financial muscle should plough back into the communities by setting up schools offering ECCDE to grade 12 and beyond. Some churches have built schools but unfortunately, they are operating like any profit making private schools by charging high fees which only the affluent can afford

This author strongly believes that the churches through their mother bodies in Zambia could forge a strategic partnership with MOGE to help construct more schools and supplement government efforts as we soldier on with the drive towards providing education for all by 2030. Let us educate our future today.

The Independent Observer

John Sakala is a Journalist yearning for independent journalism

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