Doreen Nawa on the challenges facing education and the fierce urgency to build infrastructure :
Education for All - Time to Build Infrastructure, Doreen Nawa, Times of Zambia, Commentary :
With limited infrastructure and resources in the education sector, it would be impossible for Zambia to achieve the Education For All (EFA) target come the year 2015 if no commitment is made towards building new schools and rehabilitating the existing ones.
As the year 2009 came to a close, parents and guardians were busy trying to get places for their children in grade one in the Government-run schools, which have been offering free education ever since the introduction of free education from first to the seventh grade five years ago.
But looking at the population of Zambia, there seems to be more children eligible for enrolment than the number of schools.
Despite the rise in enrolment rates in grade one to seven due to the free-education policy, challenges such as limited infrastructure and resources still persist.
Education Minister, Dora Siliya, maintained that there were inadequate schools and that Government was determined to build more schools as a way of reducing the number of school drop-outs.
The number of school drop-outs in the country is still high, despite the introduction of the free basic education programme aimed at improving access to education for all.
In 2004, Government introduced free education from grade one to grade seven in all government-run schools.
“Inadequate schools is part of the reason why so many pupils had to drop out of school, not because they were not intelligent, which is why the Government has decided to do away with the cut off point policy and started building more schools,” Ms Siliya recently said at the launch of the children’s rights programme and the education budget in Lusaka.
Infrastructure development in the education sector is one of the major challenges hampering success. For every nation to develop, experts say, massive investment should be poured into the education sector.
It is often said that development is better steered by someone who is educated and able to make informed decisions.
Infrastructure development does not only provide a conducive learning environment but also boosts the morale for both pupils and teachers, which results into an excellent performance from teachers, and the pupils.
Most schools in the country especially those in rural areas are in a deplorable state and not fit to be called schools, critics say.
And with the onset of the rains, a number of schools in rural areas are likely to collapse resulting sometimes in deaths and also disrupting the learning process.
Kawambwa district is one of the areas whose school infrastructure leaves much to be desired. The district recently had a number of school buildings collapsing due to strong winds.
Kawambwa district commissioner, Gershom Tanga said there was urgent need for rehabilitation of schools in his district, which are in a deplorable state and some have collapsed due to rains.
Three schools have collapsed in Kawambwa, namely, Makanta Basic School, Mushindike and Ilengwe Basic Schools respectively.
Mr Tanga has since appealed to the Government to rehabilitate the schools in his district which he said were last rehabilitated in the 1950s.
“I want to appeal to the Ministry of Education to consider rehabilitating the schools here. Most buildings, which were last rehabilitated in the 1950s have now developed cracks and might collapse during this rain season,” said Mr Tanga.
The construction and rehabilitation of schools country-wide needs huge sums of money and commitment from both the Government and its co-operating partners.
In August last year, Government announced that it had built more than 1,500 classrooms at basic level at a cost of K150 billion country-wide to help reduce the number of children dropping out of school.
The Education minister also announced that her ministry had completed the tendering process and signed contracts with contractors to build 43 high schools countrywide at the cost of more than K300 billion which will be completed this year.
Should such commitment towards improving infrastructure development in the education sector continue, then Zambia would stand a chance of hitting the target in 2015.
Issues of resources like desks, text books and other teaching material in schools are quiet crucial in attaining not just education but quality education for all by 2015.
With this in mind, the Government has spent K200 billion on the procurement of teaching materials from the time free basic education policy was initiated.
Besides the procurement of the teaching material, Government has also spent K30 billion on desks which have already been distributed to schools nation-wide, according to Ms Siliya.
Education is key to any kind of development be it human or otherwise.
Equity and property could be lost as they have before. But once one is educated, it remains a permanent achievement. Education cannot be taken away.
University of Zambia lecturer and consultant, Choolwe Beyani attributes the high rates of school drop-outs to inconsistency in the budget support to the free basic education programme.
Dr Beyani notes that the fluctuations in the amount of money made available for the programme every year has made it difficult for the ministry to meet its goals.
The need to invest more in infrastructure development in the education sector cannot be over-emphasised, especially now that the grade seven cut-off point has been done away with.
The Millennium Development Goals set a more realistic, but still difficult, deadline of 2015 for least developing countries that are still wallowing in abject poverty.
Indeed, it is a tough world and all the indications are that it is going to become even tougher when our kids grow up and set out to make a living and a future of their own without an education.
Education is development. It creates choices and opportunities for people, reduces the twin burdens of poverty and diseases, and builds a stronger voice in society.
For nations, it creates a dynamic work force and well-informed citizenship, able to compete and co-operate globally, and also opens doors to economic and social prosperity.
Thus, the quality of education in Zambia now depends on the amount of money the Government and co-operating partners can invest in the sector.
If the Government is committed to educating all children in Zambia, then investing in infrastructure and resources in the sector should be a priority.