Fifty Years of Independence – Part V


Education, Technology and Economic lessons from Singapore and Malaysia

While the Zambian government through the ministry of education and other line departments have attempted, and continue to promote, facilitate and encourage the provision of both formal and non-formal education in order to avail education to as many people as possible, this effort still leaves much to be desired.

First of all, the efforts made such as the non-formal education, distance education, afternoon production units, and adult learning education centers attest to the states’ commitment to educating those who are forced out of the education system. This is commendable as it helps to absorb those ejected by grade 7, 9 and 12 examinations.

Remember that those ejected at these various education levels are not necessarily failures. But they fail because of bottlenecks which are dictated by availability of places at higher levels of education. What does this mean?

It means that the expedient solution is to expand the number of:

i.            Secondary schools to absorb all leaving primary schools.

ii.            Senior secondary schools to absorb all those leaving basic (junior) schools.

iii.            Tertiary institutions (colleges and universities) to absorb ALL those attaining full school certificates at grade 12.

If this is not done, we know for a fact that we are not prepared for the educational needs of three quarters of our children who enrol for grade one in any one calendar year. I refer my readers to my earlier articles on retention and or attrition rates at different educational levels.

By this token, each of our provinces should be afforded not only primary and secondary schools, but also various trades accredited colleges and at least one university. The capacities of these should be such as to absorb all those starting school at grade ONE! This will take care of an envisaged increase in progression from primary to tertiary levels in the long term. Quite ambitious isn’t it?

That is what is took for Malaysia which is currently able to produce some 50,000 engineers per year [1].  Even as Malaysia aims to attain the status of a fully developed nation by 2020 [2], the architect of this vision Dr Mahathir Mohamad says among other things, the nation needs to have a world-class education system. Moreover, education has been dubbed as the cornerstone of Malaysia’s development goals.  This is reflected in among other things, the country’s provision of 11 years of free basic education [3]. Moreover, the Malaysian education system has integrated entrepreneurial education from junior high school level to university and post graduate school levels [4].

In spite of these strides, suffice to mention that the Malaysian education system is not perfect. It has its own challenges but there is a lot to be learnt from the Asian country [ 5].

Zambia is on this path but we need to up our game. We have been rather too slow. We need to both expand, enrich, expedite and facilitate sponsorship to enable all ‘eligible’ or deserving individuals to access ‘world-class’ education.

The other success story from which Zambia stands to learn is Singapore which is by far the most remarkable economic story on record.

The nation lacks both territory and natural resources – contrasted to Zambia.  At independence  from Britain in 1965, one year after Zambia, the nation was poverty stricken and laded with disease – malaria, high unemployment with virtually little room for FDI and with a GDP per capital of USD$320 to over USD$60,000 (2014) [6]. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Singapore produced a highly skilled labour force to cope with the booming electronics sector that included manufacturing of computer parts, peripherals and software which they exported to other world markets (ibid). The success of this was the establishment of a manpower Training Unit mandated to focus on industrial training.

The Manpower Training Unit initiative was supplemented by a Skills Development Fund which provided Singaporeans with the right kind of training for specialised jobs in the electronics and engineering sectors. To further augment the exchange of knowledge and skills, young Singaporean workers were drawn into apprenticeship programmes through the overseas Training Programme and Joint Government Training centres with international partners such as Tata of India, Phillips of Holland and Rollei of German. This unique partnership approach to workforce training has been heralded as the first of its kind towards Singapore’s investment promotion programme.

So how did a nation without natural resources make the quantum leap from third to first world? This offers many lessons. The main resource of a nation is not so much as its natural resources, rather it is the people. In describing the driving force behind Singapore’s economic success, the country’s former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew says “The quality of a nation’s manpower resources is the single most important factor determining national competitiveness”. He adds that “There is no reason why third world leaders cannot succeed…., if they can maintain social order, educate their people…” [7].

As Zambians, we can draw a lot of encouragement from this success story especially that we have both territory and natural resources which Singapore lacks. While we continue to build more schools, and articulate meticulously tailored educational policies, we should also ensure that no Zambian fails to complete their education because of inability to pay tuition fees. There is a lot of Zambians on our streets who have not been able to complete the education journey simply because of lack of sponsorship. This is rather regrettable if not shameful. The state and private sectors should join hands with our international cooperating partners to help secure sponsorship of our population at various educational levels if that will help in the short term.

 [This edition concludes Fifty Years of Independence – Education and insights. The next spread focuses on the economy]


[1] Arend, M.(nd). How Did Malaysia Do That?

[2] Snodgrass, D.R. (nd). Successful Economic Development in a Multi-Ethnic Society: The Malaysian Case.

[3] Malaysia: An economy Transformed. p66 Retrieved on 19/08/2014 at

[4] Arif, M. and Abubakar, S. (nd). Strengthening Entrepreneurship in Malaysia.

[5] Gangopadhyay, A.(Dec, 2013). Malaysia Misses a Lesson on Economic Development..

[6] History of Singapore’s Economic Development. Retrieved on 19/08/204 at

[7] Calestons, J.(2013). “Development: Learning from Singapore’s Lee Yew.


Elarm Chalusa