NATIONAL Action for Quality Education in Zambia (NAQEZ) executive director Aaron Chansa says with free education, chances of learners contracting and transmitting the COVID-19 virus are high due to overcrowding and shortage of desks.

In an interview, Chansa said he had not seen government procuring desks and this was compromising the quality of education as most learners sat on the floor during classes.

“One of the health protocols on COVID-19 is that there should be physical distancing. Since the Covid-era, we haven’t seen the government buy desks and by 2019 we had a shortfall of 1.3 million desks. Now with the coming in of or the introduction of free education, that’s why we are expecting that we have in excess of 1.5 [million] desks needed because of the over-enrollment. And the chances of learners contracting and transmitting the COVID-19 virus are very high because of the overcrowding. Actually, our survey shows that some of them are sitting on the floor whilst learning which is compromising the quality [of education]. The quality of education is being compromised because of that aspect,” he said.

“We were told that the government will release billions for desks but up to now that money hasn’t been released. The CDF which is supposed to help also hasn’t been used up to now. The grants that are sent to schools are also not enough for these schools to purchase the desks. So, in a nutshell, the schools are incapable of buying desks, the CDF is not being used and central government has not released any funds to ensure that the desks are procured. This is a desperate situation and our hope is that, with the reminders that we are giving government, we are going to see CDF administrative machinery being unlocked. We are not sure why this process has delayed, the process of procuring desks using CDF.”

Chansa said inadequate funding to most schools was also affecting the quality of education.

“So even the funding itself to schools, especially primary schools in urban areas, the running has been very bad. And this is where we have a lot of learners in classes. We have seen some schools being given 15,000, 18,000, 19,000 per term and yet that is a monthly expenditure for a school but they are given per term. And most of them are failing to actually do a lot of academic activities like mid term tests. And this is also an assault on quality education because when schools begin to fail to administer these tests, then the assessment aspect of education is also affected,” said Chansa.

“The reports that we get from Kalumbila, Kalumbila is in the North-Western, where a number of schools there have not been funded this year. Even the grants that are being sent to schools straight from the Ministry of Finance are not going to these schools in Kalumbila district. So headteachers are using their money to run the schools which is very dangerous. So we want government to release money for these schools to function properly.”