The Zambia National Education Coalition (ZANEC) is pleased to join the rest of the world in commemorating the International Day of Education that falls today the 24th of January 2020. This day was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2018 to honour education and its positive impact to human beings and fostering sustainable development of the UN member countries. The 2020 celebrations are designed to position education and learning as humanity’s greatest renewable resource and re-affirm the role of education as a fundamental human right and enabler of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development.
This year’s theme which is “Learning for people, planet, prosperity and peace”. Indeed, learning for people is very critical for developing people’s talents for inclusive development. The human resource that is used in industries and work places has to be skilled and therefore education plays a major role in developing individuals, communities and countries to mitigate poverty, inequalities, improving people’s health and their well-being. For instance, statistics have shown that women who are educated are able to take charge of their lives and also educate their children who later become financially independent thereby breaking the chain of poverty and inequalities. Additionally, education can play an important role in reducing or combating environmental degradation of our planet. Learning about the planet is very crucial in moulding our children at all levels of education to take care of the environment and preserve nature. It is important to acknowledge that the impact of climate change is already in our midst as evidenced by the drought experienced last year and the floods we have experienced so far this year.
Furthermore, education is also a proven door to prosperity and is therefore essential for individual growth economically, culturally, socially, and politically. Education accords everyone regardless of their gender, tribe and race an opportunity to prosper in life. For any country to prosper, it is important to invest in inclusive education of high quality. According to an analysis conducted by United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), if all people completed secondary school, as called for by Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, world poverty could be reduced by half. Additionally, countries like Japan have prospered economically because of huge investments in human resource skills development.
Research evidence also shows that education can catalyse and buttress peace, especially when there is equitable access for all. Education can also play a vital role
in peace building and reconciliation. Education initiatives have a proven potential to
help marginalized populations gain access to justice that contributes to peaceful societies. It is important to note that when people are educated, they are able to appreciate the value of peace and avoid conflict.
It is however concerning to see that despite the overwhelming evidence on the vital role that education plays in accelerating economic growth, reducing inequality and eradicating poverty, Zambia’s investment in the education sector has remained low over the years. It is common knowledge that funding to the education sector in Zambia has been on the decline since 2015. Although we are oblivious of the per capita cost of providing quality education in our schools, there is no dispute whatsoever that the current education budget is inadequate to enable the delivery of quality education. The share of the education budget has reduced from 20.2% in 2015 to the current 12.4% representing a 39% decrease. As evidenced from our research, this low funding has resulted in most of our primary schools running without funds to procure essential education inputs. Worse still, the annual recruitment of teachers could not be undertaken in 2019 due to a limited education budget. Even the little funding that our parents were contributing to our schools has also been reduced by government at a time when the Ministry of General Education is constrained with funds to support our schools.
This low investment in education and skills development sector has manifested itself in the poor quality of education at all levels. The 2018 PISA results released by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) underscore the scope and magnitude of the contemporary learning crisis in Zambia. According to OECD, only 5% of 15 year old pupils achieve the minimum level of proficiency in reading in Zambia compared to 2% in mathematics. The report attributes these low learning achievement, among other factors, to inadequate funding which is below the internationally recommended standard of 20% of the national budget. As ZANEC, we would like to stress that unless government doubles its investment to the education sector immediately, the achievement of the national aspirations contained in the 7th National Development Plan and the vision 2030 of becoming a middle income country will forever remain a pipe dream. Therefore, we would like to urge the Ministry of General Education and the Ministry of Finance to realise that there is no successful formula to economic and social growth without factoring in the education component. There is no proven single sector that contributes more to development – not even the roads. Therefore, our call to action for the Ministry of Finance is that they must place a great premium in financing our education system if they would like Zambia to achieve economic and social progress.