A GUIDING HAND

Zambia 2017 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Hon. Dr. Dennis Musuku Wanchinga, Minister of General Education, on the importance of PPPs, vocational skills, and the future of e-learning.

Hon. Dr. Dennis Musuku Wanchinga
BIOGRAPHY
Hon. Dr. Dennis Musuku Wanchinga has 45 years of public and private professional experience in local public and regional organizations as well as in private-sector institutions. He has served as Chairman of the Board of the Zambian Open University, and Executive Secretary and CEO of the National Science and Technology Council. He is an entomologist by profession, with a BSc from the University of Zambia, an MSc from ODU, and a PhD from OSU. Dr. Wanchinga is currently Minister of General Education in Zambia and Member of Parliament for Mambilima Constituency.

How important are PPPs in order to reach the objectives outlined by the ministry?

In Zambia there are approximately 55 institutions that call themselves universities, but our research shows that only 19 of these are credible. A number of these institutions are in the hands of the private sector, demonstrating the commitment of the private sector to improving education and raising standards across the board. The Ministry of General Education encourages partnerships with the private sector, in particular for fast-track programs. On these programs, the public and private sectors work together to define certain areas in the system that need particular attention, such as boosting science and technology learning. We forge partnerships with private institutions such as DMI St. Eugene University and the Zambian Open University to fast-track teachers who can teach science and mathematics in schools.

In what other ways is the ministry increasing emphasis on vocational skills teaching and other alternatives to a traditional academic approach?

As a country, we have realized that we cannot move forward without a solid base in science and technology. The ministry has developed a new curriculum for lower education consisting of a two-tier system, with an academic line and a skills line. We offer a specialized program for young people to hone their skills in agriculture, mechanics, and so forth. This will feed into the training institutions run by the Ministry of Higher Education.

How do you collaborate with other ministries to work towards long-term economic growth in Zambia?

The Ministry of Education cooperates with other ministries, such as the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Gender. With the latter, we focus on improving education for girls. There is a high dropout rate for a number of factors, and we want to change this so that women can go on to play a more meaningful role in the country's development. We have partnered with the Ministry of Gender and the World Bank on a number of projects and initiatives aimed at keeping girls in school. We are also working closely with the Ministry of Higher Education on a skills development curriculum that links directly with the technical education system that it runs. We also partner with the Ministry of Health to run several awareness campaigns on sanitation and hygiene, and seek to work with the relevant ministries to launch programs on conservation and environmental issues.

How much of the government's budget for 2017 is being channeled into education and education-related activities?

In 2015, the percentage of government budget earmarked for education was 20%. In 2016 and 2017, this fell to 17.5% and 15.5%, respectively. This means we have to look more closely at where best to channel this funding. In the last few years our focus was on making education accessible to all, and reducing the walking distance of every pupil in Zambia to an average of less than 5km. We have now shifted our focus to improving the quality of education and facilities. We need more classroom space, better human resources, and indeed, to improve attitudes and mindsets surrounding education and its importance. Our aim is to create better facilities and then turn our attention to the content inside the classroom in order to reach our desired outcomes.

How does the ministry incorporate e-learning solutions into its strategic plan moving forward?

Technological innovations are key to boosting Zambia's education sector. Currently though, there is limited private investment in e-learning resources in education here, which hampers progress. Thus far, education has been viewed as an area of concern for the public sector. For instance, computers can be a vital tool in the classroom; however, we need a substantial amount of funding to ensure that all children have access to this resource. We work with partners like the World Bank to improve classroom resources, educational textbooks and so on, though there are still other areas in which we need to boost private participation, such as building laboratories.