The 72 Member Organizations of the Zambia National Educational Coalition (ZANEC) would like to express their disappointment over the continued neglect of the education sector by government as demonstrated by the Ministry of Finance since 2016. The last three Ministers of Finance have collectively reduced the share of the education budget from 20.2% in 2015 to the recently announced 12.4% for 2020, representing a 39% reduction in the last four years. By neglecting education, the three Ministers of Finance have championed the race to the bottom for our education system. As you may be aware, current assessments jointly done by our Examinations Council of Zambia and the Organization Economic Cooperation and Development show that only 5% of Grade 7 pupils have minimum levels of proficiency in reading and 2% in mathematics. One of the main reasons cited as a cause of the poor quality of our education is inadequate funding. This in itself demonstrates that the education sector is experiencing a quality crisis which will continue if the funding levels do not improve.
ZANEC is particularly disheartened that the budget to Early Childhood Education, which is a foundation for a solid education system, continues to receive diminishing funds. The 2020 budget has only allocated K11.2 million compared to the K13.9 received in 2019 showing a decline of 19%, while basic education and secondary has received slight increases. The fact that there is less money in the national budget does not justify the display of lack of political will to invest in the very foundation of our education. The same can be said for Youth and Adult Literacy which allocation has reduced by 30%, yet it is a major strategy to ensure youths and adults who fall out of school stay functionally literate and are able to effectively contribute to national developments.
The Coalition notes that in the 2020 education budget allocation government is resolved to complete infrastructure projects so as to improve access and quality which is commendable; the earmarking of the Skills Development Fund to support the Out of School youths and adults to acquire entrepreneurial skills is commendable. The Coalition further calls for the prudent and accountable use of generated revenues under the Skills Fund. The Coalition in the same vain calls for the need to accelerate purchase of equipment for the Skills Training Centers in the 2020 budget cycle and done in an equitable manner to allow all Skills Training Centers benefit from the fund.
Additionally, the government proposes to spend 2 billion for University Education an increase from the 1.1billion allocated to University Education in the 2019 budget. The Coalition is concerned on the government’s failure to allocate more resources to the Loans and Scholarship Scheme which remains at a constant of K557, 000; hence perpetuating Higher Education as a preserve of those who are financially capable. On the other hand the completion of ongoing construction of hostels in the three public universities Mulungushi, Copperbelt and University of Zambia is a welcome move as this will allow for a more conducive learning environment for students and ultimately provide for quality provision of services.
We therefore wish to demand answers from the Ministry of Finance to educate us on how our economy can grow without education? The austerity measures notwithstanding, any government should know that education cannot be sacrificed over anything as it is the bedrock of any development. This is the more reason that Dr. Kenneth Kaunda promoted free education whose benefits we are now celebrating. It is sad that the same products of free education do not see any reason for having an educated generation. If this is not addressed, future generations will have more illiterate citizens such that Zambia will start importing most of its manpower from neighboring countries. What is happening in the education sector now is a clear betrayal of our next generations as we are depriving them of the opportunity to enjoy the same benefits that we are now enjoying as a result of the sacrifices our people made by increasing investment in education after independence. They did so not that they had excess resources, but because of the value they attached to education. Therefore, we do not agree that government has no money to invest in education, what is lacking is the political will to do it.
To ZANEC and its members, the current budget epitomizes a missed opportunity for transforming our education system which is currently experiencing a quality crisis. The fact that government has continued to fund salaries only to a large extent, remains inadequate to transform our education system. For this reason, we have no doubt whatsoever that the spill-over effect of the inadequate financing of education will manifest themselves in the failure by government to achieve most of the targets contained in the 7th National Development Plan, vision 2030 and the Education and Skills Sector Plan.