AIMING HIGH

Zambia 2014 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | REVIEW: EDUCATION

With an increased allocation of funds and far-reaching policy reforms, Zambia could potentially be well placed to develop into an African educational hub.

The Zambian government wisely views the developing the nation's educational and skills base as fundamental to its economic growth and social development; it has publically acknowledged that addressing these challenges requires a national perspective, and international assistance. According to the Times of Zambia, the education sector has recently been allocated ZMW9.4 billion (about $1.5 billion), or 20% of the total national budget for 2015. Unveiling the ZMW46.7 billion 2015 national budget, Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda said that the education allocation will include ZMW650 million ($103 million) earmarked for the construction of student hostels in public universities, while ZMW200.2 million ($31.7 million) would go toward student bursaries. With this in mind, technical education, vocational, and entrepreneurship training programs are being developed alongside more traditional academic topics. The goal is to develop the national workforce. But more than money is needed. Brenda Muntemba, the Chief Program Officer of UNESCO in Zambia, tells TBY that quality must remain the critical focus: “The quality of education must remain at the core of our education system. Yes, we have access to education, but is that quality education? The Ministry of Education must be sure that we check the quality, whether it is a government school or a private one." Finance Minister Chikwanda has said the cost of publicly providing tertiary education per students in Zambia was among the highest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. “There is a need, therefore, to review the cost of providing tertiary education in Zambia. I have raised the allocation to bursaries by 27.9% to ZMW200.2 million from the 2014 allocation of ZMW156.5 million," he has said. So along with the necessary investments, the Zambian government is also attacking the issue from a policy perspective, implementing a system for assessing national standards.

The role of higher education in promoting national development is generally viewed as contributing to scientific and technological innovation and enhancing grass roots practical skills—such as teacher training—needed to drive national progress in a knowledge-based, globalized economy. Higher education institutions have the potential to nurture the creativity, innovation, transferable skills, leadership and international exchanges that are needed to put Zambia on the continental and global map. Zambia is one of the poorest countries in the world and is home to 6 million children under the age of 18, of which 4 million children are of primary school age (7-14). Furthermore, approximately 70% of Zambians live at or below the poverty line. Though Zambia has made commendable progress in increasing access to education and fostering equality between the genders, the UN estimates that more than a quarter of a million children are not in education, and 47% of those who are enrolled in school do not complete primary schooling. As with many developing countries, there are also issues of a rural-urban divide in education, with rural children needing more resources to keep up with their urban peers.

ZAMBIA VISION 2030

The much-discussed Zambia Vision 2030 directives guide much of the current educational policy: the national goal is to become a “Prosperous Middle Income Nation" by 2030. The plan holds that the nation should have an economy that is competitive, self-sustaining, dynamic and resilient to external shocks, supports stability, and encourages the protection of its biological and physical systems. Moreover, Zambia wants to be free from dependence upon international donors. In addition, the nation seeks to build stable social and cultural systems that can support human capital formation. Effective university education is crucial in achieving these goals. Currently, there are just a handful of universities in the country; some of the better known institutions include the Copperbelt University in Kitwe, the Zambia Adventist University in Monze, the Northwest University in Ndola, the Cavendish University, the University of Lusaka, and the University of Zambia in Lusaka. The University of Zambia is the oldest of these institutions, having been established in 1964. It has schools of agricultural sciences, education, engineering, humanities and social sciences, law, mines, medicine, natural sciences, and veterinary medicine and offers both undergraduate and graduate programs. The Copperbelt University has four schools, offering a number of degrees in Business Studies, Environmental Studies, Forestry Sciences, and Technology. The two universities taken together have done much to meet society's needs for high-level human resources. When Zambia became independent in 1964, the country had a total of only 107 university graduates. When the University of Zambia was established in 1966, it had a total of 310 students. It now typically receives around 16,000 applications per year in recent years, and accepts around 6,000 students annually, according to Professor Stephen Simukanga, the Vice-Chancellor.

UNESCO & THE BEAR

The current UNESCO country program in Zambia, running from 2011-2015, focuses on capacity and systems building to improve the quality of education, and encourage equality in participation. It emphasizes the progression from pre-primary to primary and lower secondary education, particularly for girls, rural children, and other excluded groups.

One of the primary institutions tasked with accomplishing these goals is the Technical Education, Vocational, and Entrepreneurship Training (TEVET) Authority, which was formed in part to implement the Better Education for Africa's Rise (BEAR) project, managed partly through UNESCO. The overall objective of the program is to increase equal access to skills training, in order to enhance human capacity for sustainable national development. More specifically, the project aims to enhance the TEVET system's access to relevant skills. The project's time-frame is five years (2011-2016), and the overall investment is $10 million. Through the BEAR project, a new type of development cooperation is being established, and UNESCO sees BEAR as a unique opportunity to tie in with previous and on-going cooperation with other African countries.

SUPPORTING GIRLS

Education for girls, at all levels, poses a special challenge in Zambia. A 2012 UNESCO report has shown that being a girl in Zambia means your education is likely to be affected by becoming pregnant, marrying young, and being expected to perform household duties. The report notes that about 46% of girls marry by age 18. Unsurprisingly, boys are seen as a “better investment" in educational terms. To combat this bias, the Ministry of Education has introduced affirmative action in favor of girls at Grade 7 and Grade 9. Functionally, this means that girls require slightly lower scores than boys to proceed to the next level in schools. Leaving school because a girl has become pregnant is also an issue. To mitigate the problem, the Zambian government has put in place a policy to facilitate the re-entry of girls who fall pregnant back into the school system after they have had their babies. The policy that has been in operation for 14 years has benefited many young girls; between 2002 and 2010, a consistent 38% to 40% of girls who might otherwise have dropped out of school were readmitted and completed their studies. Zambia has garnered praise widely for progressively tackling problems of gender inequality in education.