Fifty Years of Independence – Part III

Elarm Chalusa
Elarm Chalusa

While we boast of having exported, albeit involuntarily, hoards of Zambian brains abroad and overseas in search of economic refuge – well for the most part, the population is generally uneducated.  Before you begin to insult and curse the author of this article, face the facts.

As at 2010, for individuals over the age of 25 years, the completion rates for each level of education, excluding pre-school was as follows:

v  Primary = 47.8%

v  Secondary = 37.3%

v  Tertiary = 14.5%

That’s a harsh reality isn’t it? Thus:

v   For every 1000 children enrolled at primary school, over 520 failed to complete school their primary education.

v  For every 1000 pupils admitted to secondary school, excess of 620 did not complete their secondary education.

v   For every 1000 students admitted to tertiary institutions, over 850 did not graduate.

Obviously, the reasons for failure to complete each level of education inevitably includes inability to pay the necessary fees, inability to buy school uniforms, inability to raise money for transport to school and of course failure of examination at higher levels. However, one can only wonder about what a waste of resources that translates to and what becomes of these individuals who failed to complete the various educational levels.

Have we asked ourselves why we have such astronomical levels of attrition at virtually every level of education? While we ponder upon the root causes of drop outs or failure, I offer the following radical considerations:

  1. Reduce the duration of primary education from 7 to 6 years. Run a pilot project and see how it plays out for the affected children. After all, many children have attempted grade 7 exams while in grade 6 and made it to grade 8.
  2. In the short term, consider making basic education (upto grade 9) free regardless of whether a child passes grade 7 exams.  While grade 7 examinations continue, these may just be used to streamline students according to assessed abilities for subject allocation at secondary schools.
  3. In the long term, the state should virtually foot the bulk of tuition fees for every Zambian child from primary to secondary education.  This is crucial if we are to improve access to this level of education.
  4. Reduce the duration of the secondary education from 5 to 4 years. Having taught chemistry and physics for many years, I know for a fact that each of those syllabi can be adequately and effectively exhausted within 2 years. The same should be true of other subjects. Or make sure they do – we can remain cost conscious without compromising on  quality.

In view of inadequate institutions of higher learning in the country, consider re-engineering the curriculum to provide as much training as possible at secondary schools making the school leavers sufficiently equipped to do clerical jobs, accountancy, marketing, systems as they await for admission into tertiary institutions.

The fifth year of secondary education could be used to prepare the high school graduates for a feel of working life. They could be attached to some industries, lower schools – teaching, hospitals, councils etc. This would also shape their career paths.

Alternatively, consider this: While it is good to have myriad institutions offering a range of certificate and diploma programs to increase empowerment of our citizenry, would it not be equally beneficial to integrate most of these certificate programs into the senior school curriculum? Can you image how many Zambian school leavers will be equipped with both entrepreneurial and hands on work skills making them ready to enter the job market even before attaining tertiary education should they choose that path?

I am proposing this because institutions offering these services our quite beyond the reach of many Zambians. Therefore, integrating some of these essential programs into the school curriculum will afford invaluable opportunities to many and sundry. Let us try to do things differently, Fifty Years is too old to continue grappling with elementary econometrics. I commend the private sector for having realised the existing void in our education system and having exploited it albeit inadequately.

And while implementing this would most likely see some of these little institutions fold up – giving way to the state run programs, the most innovative among them would still continue to flourish.

  1. Consider reducing the number of subjects each senior secondary student can take from 8 to 7. Remember, only subjects are required for a full certificate.
  2.  Offer diplomas to those pursuing degree programs once they pass year 3 of their studies. Many fail to obtain degrees when in actual fact they have fulfilled requirements for the award of a diploma. That will curtail despondence of degree dropouts as that would make them employable. Likewise, consider awarding a certificate/advanced certificate or other equivalent to passing ‘A’ levels for those who pass 2nd year levels depending on the faculty. This can be used to access other tertiary institutions requiring ‘A’ level qualifications.

The net effect of these suggestions once implemented is to make significant increases in the numbers of school leavers completing secondary education, the number of certificate and diploma holders while correspondingly reducing the attrition rates at various levels of the education hierarchy.

(Next feed: What should we do to make our education system cope with the demand for job creation and the much needed sustainable economic growth)

By Elarm Chalusa