By Emmanuel Mwamba
Do you wonder when you will use the knowledge from your Geography lessons about Canada, its prairies and its Great Lakes?
Do you wonder just when you will use the bulk of knowledge of irrelevant matters in courses you memorised, learnt and passed?
And your wonderful numeracy and literacy skills appear to be of no broader use to the practicality of our daily lives?
Why are we churning out graduates’ year-in- year-out, trained, skilled, and prepared for jobs that barely exist in our economy?
Do you wonder why we have so many educated, skilled young people who don’t have jobs?
Don’t you wonder how our education system is praised abroad that it is quality and produces skilled staff…Our engineers, architects, medical doctors, bankers and accountants are thriving in Australia, United Kingdom, South Africa, Canada and the USA but some are virtually unemployed in our own economy?
The Stats about Unemployment
We have a population of about 9 million people eligible for work but only 1.3 million are employed in the formal sector.
According to Central Statistics Office 2017 Labour Force Survey, the working age population (15 years or older) was estimated at 9,056,840.
The labour force population was 3,398,294 and the youth labour force accounted 1,886,645.
The employed persons accounted for 2,971,170.
The number of employed persons in the formal sector was 1,357,186.
The informal and household sectors employed 922,476 and 691,508 persons, respectively.
The number of formally employed persons was 1,096,832 while that of informally employed persons was 1,874,337.
What Is Going On?
Two things are to blame.
- Our education system designed to produce workers. (It also promotes white collar jobs and denigrates blue collar ones.)
- Does not produce graduates that respond to the current structure of our economy.
Our Education System
It’s called a factory education or factory schools.
This education system as we know it is about 200 years old.
Before that, formal education was mostly reserved for the elite.
But as industrialization in Europe changed the way we work, it created the need for universal schooling.
“Factory schools,” as they are now called, originated in early 19th-century in Prussia.
For the first time, education was provided by the state and learning was regimented.
Dozens of students at a time were placed in grades according to their age, and moved through successive grades as they mastered the curriculum.
This took an industrialized approach to education which made it impersonal, but efficient, and standardized.
But character development, creativity, innovation and, entrepreneurship is missing.
Our schools were designed to produce the workforce required by 19th-century factories.
The desired product was workers who would sit silently at their benches all day, behaving identically, to produce identical products, submitting to punishment if they failed to achieve the requisite standards or marks.
Collaboration and critical thinking were just what the factory owners wished to discourage.
As far as relevance and utility are concerned our schools teach skills that are not only redundant to the information age but is counter-productive.
Our economy is highly informal, agrarian with a narrow base of formal employment.
The informal economy with a wide informal sector of the economy, or grey economy is the part of an economy that is either taxed or difficult to tax, measure and hard to monitor by government.
The informal economy is also the diversified set of economic activities, enterprises, jobs, and workers that are not regulated or protected. It has been expanded to include wage employment in unprotected jobs.
Although the informal sector makes up a significant portion of the economies in developing countries, it is often stigmatized as troublesome or unmanageable.
You have probably heard from various experts that the size of Zambia’s economy (GDP) is far bigger than the $26.5billion.
In fact both the IMF and World Bank have since advised government to rebase the size of its economy to reflect the true activities in the economy.
But Zambia’s education curriculum produces graduates fit for a knowledge economy and not the informal economy.
It is for this reason that our graduates can thrive anywhere in the Western World but be stuck in our economy.
A knowledge economy on the other hand is an economy directly based on production, distribution and utilization of knowledge and information as fundamental enablers of growth, wealth creation and employment.
Take for example the case of the Zambia Center for Accountancy Studies College (ZCAS).
Zambia had such a critical shortage of qualified accountants, bankers and IT specialists that government partnering with the industry and cooperating partners created the College in the ZCAS 1988 Act of Parliament.
Before that such high skills could only be obtained abroad.
ZCAS is a leading and world-class provider of tuition courses in Accountancy, Business and Information Technology programmes in the Southern African region.
Almost 30 years later, Zambia is probably the only place in Africa where you can find a highly qualified accountant or banker unemployed…we have created a saturation.
These graduates pursue careers elsewhere or abandon the expensively obtained skills and do something else.
We need to match the graduates to suit the current structure of our economy.
Probably we need a focused approach and fundamentally change our school curriculum and invest more in technical, vocational and entrepreneurial education, that promotes innovation, creates graduates that will employ themselves and employ others…graduates with skills to create jobs and wealth.