Monday, 15 December 2014

MICHAEL SATA: A Champion for Quality Education

Late President Sata greeting pupils from Sioma
By Pumulo Mungoma
Since the demise of Zambia’s fifth President, Michael Chilufya Sata in October 2014 in London, the issue that has occupied the minds of many Zambians is the legacy that he has left behind. 

This article looks at some key contributions made by the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) to the education sector under the leadership of President Sata- since the party came to power in September, 2011.

Allow me to first join fellow Zambians in expressing sincere condolences to the nation and first family on the death of President Sata.

A lot has been said about 77-year old President Sata’s life, especially his perseverance in ascending to the highest office of the land. President Sata- himself a graduate in political science at Atlantic International University of the United States of America- ascended to the presidency on the preface to promote education as a corner stone for meaningful sustainable socio-economic development.

Teachers will no doubt remember President Sata for increasing their salaries from September 2013.  That was a great motivation to teachers so as to accelerate productivity and quality education.However, the wage increase is losing value due to wage freeze in the 2014 and 2015 national budgets. Was salary increment just an act of politicking when the head of state made a decision which is not backed by budgetary capacity?I am aware that government and unions having reached a stalemate on that matter, as unions have since declared the wage freeze as “illegal”. All in all, the increase was commendable!

Under the leadership of President Sata,a new national curriculum framework was introduced, which was officially launched at Lusaka’s Munali Secondary School early this year. Before this development, Zambia used a curriculum which was based on the 1966 repealed Education Act. As John Phiri- Minister of Education observes-  Zambia needs the new look at the curriculum as the 1966 Education Act had become “in many ways archaic and required serious attention.” (Ministerial Statement to Parliament, 21st February 2014). The new curriculum is currently being implemented at pre-school, grade 1, grade 5, grade 8 and grade 10. What come along with the new curriculum? 

The new curriculum framework offers learners with a choice of career pathways at secondary school; either academic or vocational pathways.  This responds to the developmental needs of the nation as well as those of the individual learner by according learners an opportunity to progress according to their abilities and interests.

Under the leadership of President Sata we witnessed the fruition of the introduction of early childhood education (pre-school), an educational provision for children between the ages of three and six.This helps in transiting smoothly these children into primary school.To compliment this, government recruited 1,000 early childhood teachers.

With such development, government continued to strengthen efforts towards the fulfilling of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015, with a keen interest on MDG number two- “to achieve primary universal education”.  Varying records indicate above ninety percent (90%) of Zambian children of school going ages are enrolled in school. Of course, there is still need to improve quality education in as far as we need many learners to access the education.

There has been stable consideration in the national budget. In the 2015 national budget the education sector has received an allocation of 20%  out of the ZWK 46 billion grand total. Minister of Finance Alexander Chikwanda announced that 5,000 teachers will be employed nest year in order to close the teacher-pupil ratio gap, and sustain reasonable funding to schools, especially primary schools- in light of the re-introduced primary and secondary school system.Also, the government continued to support the re-entry policy for girls who fall pregnant in the need to promote girl-child education.

One other interesting and yet controversial aspect of the new curriculum is the allowance of teaching learners in a local familiar language from Grade 1-4, with English being introduced as a subject in grade two. This change enables young learners to easily acquire basic literacy, numeracy, scientific and technological knowledge, skills and valuesas teaching is done in a language they understand well. Of interest too is that a deliberate program is underway to take care of adult literacy among the citizenry.

Sata’s government incorporated the learning of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) at primary and secondary school level so as to create ICT awareness among learners. Alas, the biggest challenge has been the lack of availability of learning materials and equipment for ICT. However, the move will in the long run improve relevance of the education sector due to a world that is becoming more and more computerized.

Robert Makasa University in Chinsali
Of great importance was the passing of the Teaching Profession Act by parliament. This led to the formation of the Teaching Profession Council which will license and regulate teachers. Additionally a board of directors has since been appointed for the Higher Education Council which will regulate colleges and universities, too.

When President Sata addressed the fourth session of the eleventh national assembly, on 19th September 2014, he gave an impressive report of the completion of construction of 41 of the 84 targeted new secondary schools. With the vision to establish at least one public university in each of the ten provinces, he had kick started the implementation with the now almost completed Robert Makasa and Paul Mushindo Universities. Yet, the construction of new universities brings to mind how government would manage to fund these universities given that it has failed to fund existing institutions sufficiently. Will this not magnify the problem with new universities? Probably a wait and see situation!

Additionally, there has been ongoing upgrading of colleges such as Mukuba, Kwame Nkrumah, Chalimbana into universities. Government too, signed a Memorandum of Understanding worth K21 million with DMI St. Eugene University where a total of 2,000 teachers were enrolled this year.This has made it easier for teachers to upgrade their qualifications.

There is no doubt that under the leadership of President Sata credibility was added to the management and administration of examinations in the country which saw a reduction in examination malpractice, especially leakages. Interestingly, some Grade 12 pupils on the Copperbelt protested and rioted in the name of having been accessing fake examination papers this year.

President Sata created not less than 30 new districts, and re-aligned some to new provinces as well as the creation of Muchinga province. This has enabled easier access to offices of the Provincial Education Officer and the District Education Board Secretary. Southern province in particular was lucky in that President Sata moved its provincial capital from Livingstone to centrally located Choma district. 

Michael Sata Bridge (formerly Chiawa Bridge)
Additionally, there was mass road construction and some bridges. One such bridge was named Michael Chilufya Sata, found in the Chiawa valley of Kafue district. In fact, one of the schools that this bridge connects is Chiawa Primary School, a school I served at on my first appointment for about three years.

President Sata was a supporter of trade unionism. You may recall that under his leadership his government the liftedthe ban of a teacher trade union, the Professional Teachers Union of Zambia (PROTUZ)- which had been banned shortly after registration by the previous government.  That is a gallant respect for teachers’ freedom of association. The Zambian education system now has four teacher unions namely the Basic Teachers’ Union of Zambia, Professional Teachers Union of Zambia, Secondary Teachers Union of Zambia, and the Zambia National Union of Teachers. However, in the eyes of the general teacher membership, teacher unions are yet to prove their effectiveness member representation.

Having discussed these contributions the former head of state and his team contributed to the nation, let me make mention that there are many challenges teachers still face, including the education system as a whole. These include lack of teachers’ accommodations, arduous transfer system,pathetic salary harmonization, inadequate teaching /learning materials, high girl-child pregnancy rates, high teacher pupil ratio, teachers’ poor conditions of service in private schools, limited bursary schemes at universities, none payments of settling in allowance, uncoordinated performance assessment and evaluation procedures,retirement age and pension contributions, etc.Government and stakeholders should find lasting solutions to these and many more problems in keeping alive the legacy of President Sata.

In conclusion, despite many challenges President Sata has been a good leader in promoting quality education- at least in education.In Tonga we say“sokwe utondezya bulowa bwakwe”- (translated, one needs to do his best within his means in a making a difference). For sure, President Sata tried his best, a solid foundation where his successor can begin from. As former South African president Nelson Mandela said:“Education is the greatest weapon you can use to change the world!”Here lies Michael Chilufya Sata; a champion and an ardent lover of education.

About the Author:

Pumulo Mungoma is a Zambian educationist, and a passionate writer on issues that relate to government education policy. He also works with some independent educational professional bodies.
Cell phone: +260954-623860

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