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Saturday, 9 April 2011

PF Manifesto: Education Development

Before we begin our ‘manifesto analysis’ series it is worth making clear the analytical approach we shall take. The overarching approach will be guided by the need to be concise and consistent. Concise because we won’t cover everything but focus on the key specific proposals under each area. Many parties make promises but they are never specific because they have no serious intention to do anything - we shall not waste time on such "promises". The analysis will also be shorter to allow us to finish. We have two more manifestos to come so the plate may get full quickly! We plan to be consistent by ensuring that each post asks the same three key questions we have asked below. This will help readers compare within and across manifestos. It also ensures that the analysis is objective

For our first post, we begin with the Patriotic Front (PF) proposals on education policy as set out in their manifesto.

What are the main specific policy proposals?

The PF policy proposals for education are set out under three main areas :

Early education: It intends to "provide and facilitate early childhood education centres and teachers in all local government wards in Zambia". There are also promises to equip teachers with training at diploma and degree levels in early childhood education.

Primary and secondary: The PF will re-introduce “free and compulsory education for all (that is from grade one to grade twelve)”, accompanied by a new commitment to a twin track approach to education with students having the choice to pursue an “academic route” or “technical” path. This is new and seeks to respond to concerns that the current approach is too focused on getting a job rather than entrepreneurship or other innovative practices. Perhaps the most eye catching proposals relate to provisions to look after the teachers in rural areas. There are promises of increasing rural hardship allowance, providing new housing and government guaranteed mortgages or loans.

Tertiary education:  PF are planning to increase the number of public universities by converting existing colleges into public universities. The focus is therefore on a public funded higher education system. There’s also a proposal to introduce a new bursary scheme for tertiary education for all pupils who qualify to higher learning institutions. The beneficiaries would either repay the money or “work off” the benefit they have received. Finally, PF will create a new independent regulatory body to register and enforce education standards in public and private universities. The last two proposals are similar to plans already being taken forward by the MMD administration and therefore some might contend that it is unclear what PF proposals  add to the table. 

What is the rationale?

There are three core problems that PF believes are at the heart of the current education mess. Their proposed policies are principally geared towards addressing these issues. 

Poor educational funding. The PF notes that education spending “under the MMD government, as a percentage of GDP, has been very low resulting into the country having a poor quality education system”. Unfortunately, the causal link from public underfunding and poor quality education is not so straight forward. You can spend very high and still under perform. However, PF is correct that education is underfunded and Zambia is among the lowest funders in the SADC region as a proportion of GDP.  

Donor dependence. PF pointedly notes that “the total government contribution to the education budget is only a paltry 18% thereby making Zambia continuously and heavily dependent on contributions from cooperating partners”. It appears that PF believes donor priorities are distorting funding in the education sector either through removing government responsibility or simply that donors are forcing wrong priorities on the Zambian people. According to PF “this has..led to inadequate access to education opportunities at all levels”. In short if we want to know the root cause of the problem, we simply need to follow the money trail and it leads to the donor community. However, given the large gap it is not clear how PF plans to narrow this gap - more on that later. 

Poor accessibility to education. This is particularly the case for secondary school which is characterised with low progression rates, particularly in rural areas. The manifesto notes that only 48% of primary school children proceed to grade eight. Similarly, the progression rate to grade 9 is a mere 25%. Cause for concern indeed.

What is our main assessment?

The PF proposals are correct to note education funding as a binding constraints. Therefore the commitment to increase the level of education funding must be applauded. It is also good to see PF proposing to tackle rural constraints, especially those related to teachers. This is something we have considered in the past and argued for strong action. Teacher housing in particular is a huge constraint and it is good that something is being proposed there. Similarly, the push for twin tracking eduction system is also welcome as is the emphasis on multiple languages at the lower level. All in all the diagnosis of the problem is spot - so are some of the proposals.  However, there are some worrying gaps in their proposals.

The first being that PF have not costed these proposals. How much for example do we expect it is going to cost to bring all these private colleges and turn them into public universities? Why public anyway, does it provide better value for money? How much will it cost to provide free education beyond Grade 9? How will it be funded? It seems to me that MMD would also love to have free education but they believe it is unaffordable. The test for the PF is therefore not whether it is desirable but how they plan to fund such initiatives. The same applies to loans for teachers, higher bursary allowances and other important provisions. These are all welcome but funding sources need to be explained if these proposals are to be credible. Otherwise Zambians expectations may exceed what is practical given the constraints on our budget. 

This bring us to a related problem - lack of clarity on how public provision sits with private enterprise. The PF proposals currently seems to rely on central government doing most of the heavy lifting. It believes strongly that government funding should increase and that government should be the main player. There's little on encouraging private sector to share the burden. Unfortunately, government has no money. Therefore we must consider whether there’s more the private sector can do. For example, what is wrong with encouraging local authorities to go into partnership with the private sector to fund schools? We have the PPP model now, why can't that be explored in education? Or does the PF believe PPP has no future in education at all? Similarly, why can’t the private sector (e.g. mining companies) be mandated to contribute to education provisions where they live, as part of alleviating the pressure they put on these local schools? This happens in other parts of the world, especially with school construction. 

There's also the problem with lack of specifics on how improved performance will be monitored. This is a manifesto not a development plan and therefore we can’t expect targets, but we can expect more discussion of the framework for monitoring performance. Do they plan to introduce local service agreements / contracts between schools and their communities? Do they plan to have centrally managed targets? Without addressing these questions, I fail to see how the public will be able to know that these proposals will deliver tangible changes. 

Finally, some crucial areas are missing and therefore it is unclear whether they are even on the PF radar. A manifesto cannot capture everything about education policy, so we are looking for big ticket items and principles of approach. Sadly, some key areas we have catalogued before are missing :  the lack of timely paid benefits to teachers; high debt levels by higher education institutions; role of the diaspora in education to help reverse the “brain drain” (the word “diaspora” is not mentioned in the manifesto at all); barriers to education in rural areas e.g. transport shortage; vision for girl child education as a driver of economic growth; an ICT based vision of primary and secondary education.

So what are we to make of the manifesto pledges on education?

The PF has some very good ideas about education policy, but I found the proposals underwhelming, unspecific and lacking a bold and cohesive new vision for change. It is missing a deeper overarching narrative that goes beyond simply pouring more money into education, but actually delivers greater local ownership of education priorities and leverages much needed private sector funding into education provision. May be this is asking too much for our parties, I don't know. But it seems to me that their economic advisers should be telling them that the trick with education policy is to get the market to provide where it can and government to provide where the market can’t. How one gets that balance is the key. More importantly we need clear proposals on how performance will be monitored to ensure progress is being made. At the moment it is difficult to know how Zambians will know how PF will deliver these things if they form government.

Related Posts :

MMD 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.


  1. The PF manifesto on education does not lie within an holistic framework. They propose more highly centralized, top-down educational development, yet on other matters they embrace decentralization and community empowerment. On election the PF needs to put some think tanks together - tanda mbubi perhaps - that will add the spokes to the wheel. The PF, having embraced the Christian Church, is the political moral compass for Zambia, but it is going to require a lot of work and application for it to have a coherent policy providing an alternative to what we suffer from at present.

  2. i find this analysis excellent. it also rises one big questions about political parties. do they truly have economic advisors. for me this manfesto seem to have been write by laymen like me not expert.

  3. Great to see that the PF's website is now up and running, and looking very good.

    They have a blog here:

    And their manifesto is available in .pdf form here.


    It seems to me that MMD would also love to have free education but they believe it is unaffordable.

    Actually they wouldn't. Everything they do is geared toward either foreign investors or themselves - the Zambian political elite.

    And that is true whether it is education, healthcare, infrastructure, etc.

    They know where to get money. The present Finance Minister is a former non-executive director of ZCCM-IH, which is not receiving the dividends that are owed to it - hundreds of millions of dollars worth. The same with taxation of the mines.

    I agree that manifestos should be costed, but I am also sure that we're not going to see that in any manifesto, by any political party. :)

  4. Thanks for your various comments on this.

    ”The PF manifesto on education does not lie within an holistic framework. They propose more highly centralized, top-down educational development, yet on other matters they embrace decentralization and community empowerment” - Chosanganga

    Spot on!

    it also rises one big questions about political parties. do they truly have economic advisors. for me this manifesto seem to have been write by laymen like me not expert - Anonymous

    Very good question. We shall see of course as we go through the next sections, but I suspect they don’t have economic advisors – or if they do not have access to people that are able to subject it through rigorous economic thinking. On the other hand – one does not need to be an economic advisor to raise the sort of point Chosanganga raises about lack of coherence. It simply requires an analytical mind or taking a deep breath and scan over the horizon – not necessarily an “economic” brain. I do wish all policies though had economist input.

    Actually they wouldn't. Everything they do is geared toward either foreign investors or themselves - the Zambian political elite. Mrk

    That is true but they have an incentive to stay in power and that requires them to undertake some populist policies. It is a balancing act for them. We cannot simply say MMD has done nothing to keep itself popular. It does do things that are why it wins elections. But what we say is that it can do more. We don’t have to be in total denial to make them see sense.

    ”I agree that manifestos should be costed, but I am also sure that we're not going to see that in any manifesto, by any political party. - Mrk

    Most likely – but if that happens we will flag it up. In short the approach I have taken is one which is objective to a common standard not relative between parties.

  5. unless i am not reading right the part of manifesto is totally unrealistic.PF will provide an almost 100% centrally controlled.on one hand they are offering free education at the same time increasing the potential beneficiaries kinder to secondary school. as though its it too small a burden they offering more free health care, practically funding the entire agriculture sector and still reducing taxes on workers. now lets also remember that they are pumping money into infrastructure development. are these guys honest? where to they get money to do all this? if they were to stand by their manifesto it would directly lead to rising taxes on all of us


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