This is our first assessment of the MMD policy proposals. Naturally the MMD focuses their manifesto on justifying the policies they have undertaken and then proceed to show that there’s some sort of vision they are working to. For our purposes we are not too concerned with what MMD has achieved or hasn’t we are focused on their 2011-16 proposals to allow readers to compare with other manifestos.
What are the main specific policy proposals?
The specific MMD policy proposals for education development are focused on two areas :
Primary and Secondary - The MMD plans to expand access to high schools so that two-thirds of those completing basic school education can proceed to high schools. This is basically a continuation of their schools building programme. There also proposals to establish a Teaching Council for “the accreditation of teachers and for ensuring their continuous professional development”.
Tertiary Sector - There’s a general commitment to expand education training opportunities at tertiary and vocational levels. This is supported by more specific commitments. First, MMD proposes to “ensure that each province has a degree-awarding institution”. Secondly, it plans to facilitate the establishment of a loan scheme for students who cannot meet the academic or living costs of university education. Thirdly, MMD aims to establish an Higher Education Authority “with the responsibility for allocation of resources to various institutions to ensure programmes in public universities respond to national needs and for the monitoring of standards”
For the avoidance of doubt the other core MMD proposal to develop a National Qualification Framework should be ignored because its already in recently passed Bill. It’s therefore not a new commitment and to sceptics it appears to be an attempt to "hoodwink" the ignorant masses.
What is the rationale?
The MMD believes the key challenge facing education is “access and quality in education” and that “considerable progress has been made in this direction”. It does not explain what is meant by “access” or “quality”. It goes without saying that the manifesto is very weak in defining the underlying problems. Perhaps its to be expected because they would not want to suggest they are sitting on problems after being in power for 20 years. However, that is a naive approach because the public perfectly understands that every government cannot solve everything at once. One thing that is clear from the manifesto is that funding is not the problem because MMD has apparently “demonstrated its commitment [to education] through increased budget allocation to the education and skills sector in the last five year”.
What is our main assessment?
The MMD proposals in this area suffer from significant problems. Chief among them is a severe lack of problem identification. It has identified the need for “access and quality” in education but it has not moved forward to expand on this so that the electorate understands what the key issues are. Is it regional access? Is it access to poor households? When they speak of “quality” what do they mean by that? Too many unanswered questions. This poverty in diagnosis means that the solutions are difficult to judge. After all if we don’t know the problem how do we know whether we have the right solution? The reader is therefore forced to develop his own set of problems and see whether MMD “solutions” would match those. But even with that approach a new set of problems emerge.
Even when MMD makes interesting proposals, it usually turns out half-baked. For example the proposal “to ensure that each province has a degree-awarding institution” is fascinating only for its lack of clarity. It is unclear whether this will be through establishing universities or offering a degree program at existing higher education colleges (but do these exist?). If it is the former then it is clearly very expensive. Zambians may also question whether the current problem is lack of public provision or poor standards in existing institutions coupled with corruption. People are failing to make it on merit alone. Similarly, the proposal for an Higher Education Authority is interesting, but again it is unclear how this seats alongside the new national qualification framework. Why create two structures when one can work? If MMD believes such an authority is necessary, why is not in the Education Bill 2011?
Those are the more charitable flaws. In general the proposals are extremely underwhelming for a sitting government. A key feature that hovers around the narrative is the lack of vision. It is difficult to glean from this manifesto what the MMD vision for education is. Yes it is committed to building schools but what about the nature of education itself? How do they see that relating to the national economy? How is this education system suited to employment creation and general poverty reduction? Equally, worrying is the lack of costings. The MMD are proposing greater increase in school provision, but with no clear explanation of funding sources or appropriate cost figures. For a sitting party this is extremely disappointing. They have the entire machinery of government at their disposal, but they cannot produce a single number!
Then we have the major misses. There’s a lack of discussion on early education, an area properly recognised by the opposition and the education literature as vital for long term – doesn't our proverb say “imiti ikula empanga” ? So what about those aged between 0 - 4 years old? Similarly, there’s no recognition of other important areas, including the barriers to education in rural areas; girl child education as a driver of economic growth; the lack of timely paid benefits to teachers; high debt levels by higher education institutions; and, the role of the diaspora in education to help reverse the “brain drain”. The whole brain drain issue in education appears not exist on the MMD radar.
One is therefore forced to conclude that MMD have not given serious thought to education. Given the outspoken nature of the current Minister, I had expected some vision and carefully articulated proposals. Alas what one sees is a manifesto on education that is devoid of substance and in serious need to go back to the drawing board. There are also one or two areas where MMD appears to intentionally mislead the blind electorate by suggesting issues already underway as “new” proposals. Such approaches must be rejected for a more truthful exposition of what they actually plan to do for the Zambian people. We hope that other aspects of the manifesto would be markedly better than this.
Related Posts :
PF Manifesto : Education Development
Related Posts :
PF Manifesto : Education Development
Zambian Economist is currently reviewing manifestos of leading political parties in Zambia. All posts in this ongoing review can be found at Manifesto Analysis.