By ANTONIO MWANZA
EVERY country’s economy is dependent on the productivity and competence of its workers. A knowledgeable and competent workforce is vital for increased productivity and effective service delivery.
The Patriotic Front (PF) has therefore prioritised education as a fuel to power national development.
The government has in the last eight years invested millions of dollars in training and building modern educational infrastructure to create a cadre of professionals that can push its development agenda of making Zambia a truly industrialised middle income country by year 2030.
To achieve this, Government had to first revise and realign the curriculum from primary to tertiary level to develop an education system that is relevant and responsive to national values, development goals and the ever changing times and demands.
In the last eight years, the PF government has scored unprecedented achievements in this education sector and in all its sub-sectors – Early Childhood Education; Primary and Secondary School Education; Youth and Adult literacy; Teacher Education; Skills Development; Science, Technology and Innovation and University Education.
The following are the huge milestones the PF government have scored in the Education Sector:
1. Early Childhood Education
To ensure that children aged 3-6 years have access to Early Childhood Education, Government has in the last eight years established over 1,500 Early Childhood Education centres, enrolling a total of over 80,000 children mostly in rural and remote areas of our country.
In the same period Government has trained and recruited over 1, 350 Early Childhood Education teachers.
In order to ensure this sector is well coordinated and efficiently managed, Government has also developed the National Policy and Implementation Plan, established the Early Childhood Education Directorate and a curriculum for the sector.
Government has invested heavily in the procurement and disbursement of teaching and learning materials.
These measures have increased the number of Grade one (1) entrants with Early Childhood experience to about 20.4 percent.
2. Primary School Education
The PF government has made remarkable progress in the last five years towards achieving the Education for All, Goal Number Two on Access to Primary School Education.
The notable achievements include: Increased number of schools totaling 8,754 with an enrolment of 3,691,486 learners and a net enrolment rate of 94.3 percent and a revised school curriculum which introduced, among other things, the use of the seven local languages as a medium of instruction in grades one to four.
Others are the introduction of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a compulsory subject, recruitment and deployment of primary school teachers and expansion of the School Feeding Programme to over 2,200 schools benefitting over 900,000 children annually.
Others are the implementation of the Early Grade Reading Assessment and Early Grade Mathematics Assessment at lower levels to improve literacy and numeracy acquisition and Continued construction of school infrastructure, including classrooms and teachers’ houses especially in rural areas.
The rest are the continued implementation of Free Primary Education Policy; continued professional development of teachers; and continued upgrading of community schools.
3. Secondary Education
For Secondary Education, Government’s priorities in the period 2016-2021 are to continue with the upgrade of the remaining 1,800 basic schools into secondary schools and sustain the Fast-Track upgrading programme for teachers in Mathematics and Science.
Others are to produce and distribute mobile laboratories and computers alongside other teaching-learning materials; rehabilitating all old secondary schools built during the First Republic and strengthen Vocational career pathways.
4. Tertiary Education
From 1964 right up to the time PF came into office, Zambia only had three public universities namely the University of Zambia (UNZA) in Lusaka, Copperbelt University (CBU) in Kitwe and Mulungushi University in Kabwe.
However, the PF has in eight years increased the number of public universities from a mere three to seven with more campuses currently under construction. These include the newly built and upgraded Kapasa Makasa, Kwame Nkhrumah, Chalimbana, Paul Mushindo, Palabana and Levy Mwanawasa Medical universities. Government has also forged a robust partnership with private firms and individuals to establish more privately owned universities.
Today there are 40 privately owned universities.
The expansion of students’ accommodation facilities at UNZA, CBU and Mulungushi University and Evelyn Hone College is ongoing and is expected to create 9,600 bed spaces has advanced.
6. Student loans
To increase the number of students accessing government sponsorship, the PF government did away with the Bursary Scheme, which was inadequate, fraught with bias and perceived corruption, and replaced it with the more accessible and sustainable Students Loans Scheme.
7. Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics
In today’s world, everything we do is technological and very soon 70 percent of all top paying jobs will require STEM (Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics) education.
Zambia must continue to tap into scientific innovations and benefits and step up investments in technology and equipping the youth with relevant knowledge and skills needed in the 21st century as noted by UNESCO.
The Zambian Government is committed to improving professionalism in the youth through increased access, training and knowledge of STEM subjects in primary, secondary as well as higher education.
The massive investment in learning, teaching, infrastructure development and STEM development has put Zambia on a positive trajectory to achieving the Vision 2030 to become a truly industrialised middle income country by creating an enabling environment for investment and job creation to end poverty and foster development.