Now, this is not good. This is not acceptable. This is slowly but surely starting to be stressful, very stressful actually, and annoying. Where is the plan, or the funds, almost half a year after our August the 12th 2021 National Elections, for fully funding, from the public purse, university education? Hakainde Hichilema and his friends of the UPND now in government must answer these questions, and fast. They promised, and are still talking, about free education.
Millions of young people, unemployed, in colleges, in universities and parents voted for the UPND and Hichilema because they promised “free education”. Of course, there is nothing for free – everything that needs money is paid for. “Free education” is paid for by governments from the public purse on the demands of citizens that education be a universal right, a social good; which is what it actually is.
A properly educated population is a rich people with knowledge, skills, crafts, trades and professions which taken together is national wealth, and creates the wealth of a country. A properly educated population has its creative genius unleashed to roam freely and confront both small and large challenges a people confront, daily. ‘Properly educated” means the content of education, its cost and full access are a product of democratic engagements with the citizens of a country.
I am not aware of even a whisper (forgive me if I am partially deaf!) about work to examine and overhaul the contents, structure, infrastructure, cost, and access to education from birth to death in Zambia, in the UPND government, and to make it “free”. Our August 2021 elections were also a rejection of an education system which is dilapidated, chaotic, archaic and totally out of sync with our times; an education system which does not help free Zambians from ignorance, poverty, unemployment and inequalities.
Where are the full plans for transforming the entire education sector, making education a universal right in Zambia, and placing it on a higher footing to help us meet our challenges? This is what was expected, not celebrations of the drip, drip, drip releasing of small amounts of kwacha to a collapsing education system!
I wrote an open letter to Hichilema, on this column (see News Diggers, Thursday, 6th of January 2022) on behalf of young people who have qualified to enter any university of their choice but have no one to pay for them. I cajoled, pleaded and begged that the UPND government find the money to make sure that all young people who must be in university should do so, funded from our public purse. It has not happened.
Dear young fellows, the foundations of Zambia were laid by a man who in fact did not have more than 10 years of full education. The British left Zambia without a single university; that is how mean and selfish they are – they actually even went away with the geological maps showing how rich Zambia is, in minerals!
Now, imagine the courage, risk taking and foresight our founding mothers and fathers had: they took on the miseducated British, booted them out, and in less than 10 years, out of a population of peasants and a small sprinklingof a missionary educated elite, created Zambia. This meant that initially they had to depend on a colonial civil service and economy. Soon though, Kaunda turned all that upside. He grew his own Zambian civil service and before long, he started nationalising large swaths of the economy, including the copper mines. And he funded education from primary school to university.
The irony about all this is that a largely uneducated nationalist leadership educated and created Zambia. Today, the same beneficiaries of that educated are creating a very impoverished and uneducated Zambia! Just take a walk to the University of Zambia, look at its decayed and crumbling infrastructure, the unkempt environment, the totally inadequate and poor staff and student accommodation and you will not even want to go to the lecture theatres!
We have learnt from the highest office at UNZA that in fact it is bankrupt, insolvent, and has been for years. Lecturers and staff suffer low pay incapable of sustaining them as the backbone of a thriving university. They are paid irregularly, their monthly wages. Accrued benefits and pensions are in a mess, and demands to sort out this mess fall on extremely deaf and brain-dead heads, in government.
Zambians have gone ahead and started creating universities. This is good. However, without proper regulations and massive support from government and full public funding of students, these universities are obviously struggling, and risk compromising quality of studies and lowering the status of what a university must be. Through the public purse, government must demand strict adherence to well established standards and norms of operating a university.
Hakainde Hichilema went to Dubai, to attend the ongoing World Expo. This was good, for him. He saw for himself the marvellous wonders the human brain can cook up when properly and fully educated. He feasted his eyes on future technologies which will transform human life on Earth, for ever. I wonder how he felt when he walked through the Zambian pavilion which looked like an embarrassing tiny kitchen in a museum compared with all the wonders he saw? Surely, he now knows that without a radical transformation of our education system driven by mass democratic engagements and the government funding, Zambia is as good as a cemetery?
Now, alone at home, young fellow, you will feel and indeed are, powerless. You are at the mercy of those whose home you are dwelling in, and pockets you are parasitic on, for now. You must know one or two friends who are in the same situation as you are. Contact them and meet up, to think and plan together about how you are going to make public your suffering and demands. Look for others, and soon you will see just how many you are, and you will then realise that you are not powerless after all. From there I leave it to your young fertile minds to imagine how you are going to secure funding from the government.
If the thousands of young Zambians who cannot start their university studies this year got organised, made public their concerns and approached the relevant government offices to get their concerns attended to, government would respond. Without this, I am afraid,nothing will happen.
What are the lessons from all this? Zambia is going nowhere but under, unless we put in good nurseries, school, college and university all our young people, at public cost. Our current education system clearly needs transformation of content, system, infrastructure, cost, and access. Unless young people financially excluded from education organise themselves and act on their demands, government will not jump and attend to their needs.
Why not, go ahead and form a “Zambia Financially Excluded Students Movement” or something like that, and I will be among the first to make a humble donation! Go on, just do it, as Nike says!
I repeat, the August 2021 elections were also a rejection of financial exclusion of students, transformation of our education system; and for public funded education, also erroneously called “free education”!
(Send your comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org)