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Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Education and Training in Zambia

Editor's note: This is a guest post by Henry Kyambalesa, a resident contributor to Zambian Economist. He is a Zambian academic currently residing in Colorado, USA. The articles argues that the government's recent decision to impose the teaching of selected Zambian languages in schools from Grade 1 through Grade 4 is misguided. It also calls for creation of a Higher Education Authority.
In 1917, a philosopher by the name Alfred North Whitehead warned about the ill-fated destiny of a society which does not make meaning ful invest ments in its peop le's education that is perhaps truer today than it was during his time:
"In the condi tions of modern life, the rule is ab solute ... [a nation] which does not value [edu cation] ... is doo med."
It should, therefore, be obvious that accessible and high-qua lity education can be said to be the most impor tant invest ment a govern ment can make. It is not possible for any soci ety to succeed in the pursuit of other human endeavors without ade quate pools of enlightened citi zens.

In general, education is among societal members' funda mental rights enshrined in the Uni versal Declara tion of Human Rights, Article 26(1):
"Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and funda mental sta ges. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Techni cal and professional edu cation shall be made generally ava ilable, and higher education shall be equally acce ssible to all on the basis of merit."
There is clearly a need for the government to make a sustained effort to cater for the basic needs of the educational system by ensuring that schools and classrooms are adequately equipped for both teaching and learning; that every classroom has qualified, self-motivated and well-paid teachers or lecturers; and that institutions of learning have competent school administrators on competitive conditions of service and adequate office supplies and fixtures.

In the ensuing sections, I wish to comment on the government's decision to impose the teaching of selected Zambian languages in schools from Grade 1 through Grade 4, and the creation of a Higher Education Authority.

Local Languages in Schools

There are no tangible or conceivable benefits to the nation and/or to school-going children which are likely to accrue from the change in the language of instruction from English to a selected number of local languages for school children in Grade 1 through Grade 4.

Nationalism as an end in itself has become irrelevant in a globalizing national context. English, whether we like it or not, has become the 'Lingua Franca' in commerce and trade in the integrated global market for goods, services, labor, capital, and technology.

Any country that wants to compete on the global or world stage, therefore, would do well not to formally and unnecessarily subject its young citizens to a potpourri of tribal local languages.

There are many hitches associated with the change in the language of instruction in schools from English to a selected number of local languages for school children in Grade 1 through Grade 4.

Firstly, our beloved country has become heterogeneous in terms of tribal identities due in part to inter-marriages. There are, for example, many husbands and wives who have settled in provinces which are not their provinces of origin. Imposition of a third tribal language on such parents' school-going children would be contemptuous.

Secondly, foreigners in diplomatic missions and expatriates based in Zambia will have problems in finding nearby schools for their young children which will not require instruction in local languages.

Thirdly, Zambian citizens relocating to English-speaking countries to study, to work in the country's diplomatic missions, or for other reasons, will have to enroll their young children in elementary English classes in order for such children to catch up to the level of their classmates.

Fourthly, the Zambian nation is composed of 73 distinct tribes, each one of which has a distinct language. To impose 7 local languages—that is, Bemba, Kaonde, Lozi, Lunda, Luvale, Nyanja, and/or Tonga languages—on 66 of our country's tribes and their languages would be synonymous to treating the citizens who belong to such tribes as second-class citizens.

UNIP and Dr. K. D. Kaunda kept the country united and stable for 27 consecutive years by avoiding such a controversial and divisive experiment!

And, fifthly, the proposed experiment will exacerbate the country's deteriorating levels of literacy. By the way, a study conducted by the Southern African Consortium for Measuring Education Quality between 2007 and 2010 has placed Zambia second from the bottom out of the 15 countries in the Southern African region which were surveyed!

Higher Education Authority

The creation of a new Higher Education Authority (HEA) to improve the quality of education and training, and to establish a national regulatory framework for education and training in the country, is, in principle, a good idea. Also, the contemplated establishment of a National Health Research Authority (NHRA) is an idea that should be supported by all well-meaning Zambians.

However, the government needs to seriously consider the prospect of creating a National Education and Training Authority (NETA)—an umbrella-kind-of authority that should be charged with the responsibility of monitoring, regulating, and bolstering the standard and quality of education and training in the country.

Such an Authority should be composed of three standing committees—that is: (a) a Standing Committee on Formal Education; (b) a Standing Committee on Tertiary Education; and (c) a Standing Committee on Health and Medical Training.

Finally, it is essential for the government to craft an educational and training regime that does not only equip the citizenry with the knowledge and skills needed in developing our country, but also one that is designed to equip each and every citizen with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the global marketplace of the 21st century.
Copyright © Zambian Economist 2014


  1. This article is more of a rant than a well reasoned posting. It lacks the rigour we have come to expect from this blog.

  2. Ntembe Chibamba13 March 2014 at 10:42

    "By the way, a study conducted by the Southern African Consortium for Measuring Education Quality between 2007 and 2010 has placed Zambia second from the bottom out of the 15 countries in the Southern African region which were surveyed!" What has this power performance in attaining quality standards of education got to do with learning one's Mother tongue as is being suggested? Low standards of education in Zambia, some of the lowest in the region, are happening whilst children's education is being delivered in English. Many studies have proven that multi-lingual children are more intelligent than those that can only speak one language. Learning and gaining proficiency of one's Mother tongue does not make one illiterate, such a conception reeks of deeply rooted inferiority complex. Children will still learn English. Its alarming how we can't notice the value of passing on knowledge of our languages to our children, it truly is alarming. I must admit though that the logistical organisation of implementing the policy has been of low standard, and much more consideration needs to be done, but of course very difficult to achieve when its clear that we have no confidence in our own languages as a people. Its a big shame!

  3. I honestly feel our government is aware that having an enlightened citizenry would work against them. They actually thrive on the ignorance of the masses. Great article

  4. There is nothing wrong with children learning to read and write in their mother tongue. The trouble comes in towns where no provision has been made for the many languages spoken or the many Zambian children who only speak English. Many parents move around the country from one job to another (even teachers) so the chances of having only one language spoken in a school are not good.
    The really important issues around poor literacy are not being tackled at all. High pupil/teacher ratios, few or no books, short school hours due to multiple classes per classroom, no remedial classes for slow learners, high rates of teacher absenteeism, high rates of pupil absenteeism (due to poverty and distances from schools) and so on. Teaching Zambian languages in schools would be great but it can not be assumed that the children in any particular class already speak any particular language. Teaching children in a language they do not understand without first teaching the language does not go very far.


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