The Teaching Service Commission of Zambia has announced that it will introduce aptitude tests for teachers, starting with applicants who seek to be recruited later this year.

Commission chairperson Stanley Mhango said the requirement for already qualified teachers to sit for matriculation is not meant to demean the dignity of the service, but to improve standards and the quality of education in the country.

The move, he said, follows complaints from some authorities as well as parents, over the calibre of some teachers deployed to various learning institutions.

But as expected, in our usual Zambian way, we have rushed to condemning the move without appreciating the objective that the Teaching Service Commission would like to achieve.

We have seen the arguments from critics, saying reports of poor performance by some recruited teachers was proof of a systemic failure by education authorities in the country to deliver quality education.

While we would like to agree with this observation, we don’t think that what the Teaching Service Commission is trying to do is wrong in a broader sense. Among other professions, teaching is a very demanding undertaking, and it cannot be said that education is the key to success if those in charge of dispensing knowledge are imparting ignorance into children.

A question may arise as to how such teachers who can’t read or write ended up having qualifications and being employed. Yes, the education system in Zambia is flawed, and this is not only in the teaching service. It affects all the other faculties of the education system. We have pupils who get six points at grade 12 in high school, but fail to clear at university. We also have some university students who graduate with distinction but never quite make it in their career. How do they pass? The answer is common knowledge – malpractice.

It is in fact the same malpractice that is rampant in some learning institutions that should make stakeholders happy that the Teaching Service Commission wants to add another layer of scrutiny. This is the reason why pupils who pass grade seven are made to write another qualifying examination at grade nine before proceeding to grade 10 and once more at grade 12 before being offloaded into society.

So as long as this aptitude test for teachers will come at no extra fee, we should encourage it. This is one of the many ways in which as a country, we can aspire to achieve academic excellence.

But it is not only the Teaching Service Commission we should be talking about. Lawyers are respected because of the academic scrutiny they go through before being admitted to the Bar, but even then, just like there are teachers who can’t read or write, there are lawyers who can’t win you a case even if you killed a fly. They can’t argue anything sensible in court, but they buy judgments and end up being very ‘successful’. As if that is not bad enough, such criminals end up becoming judges, giving verdict on critical national issues.

In the medicine fraternity, we have arrogant nurses who can’t even nurse their own tempers, doctors who prescribe medicine without caring to conduct the required physical examination on a patient, and pharmacists who dispense expired drugs. Yet, all these people are very qualified.

If it’s police officers, very few would pass aptitude tests about law enforcement, but these are the people in whose hands we have entrusted our lives.

So instead of condemning the Teaching Service Commission for this initiative, we must be encouraging them and helping them with ideas on how better to conduct such aptitude tests in order to improve the education standards. We should also be encouraging the Teaching Service Commission not to end at scrutinising new teachers but to also investigate the teachers who can’t read and flush them out of the system.

We would expect parents who have school going children to be happy with such a system, which we feel must actually be extended to all registered private schools, because some of them recruit old retired civil servants who can’t cope with the computer age. Such teachers may be well qualified and full of experience, but because they are tired, they end up giving school work to their dependents at home to mark; which is not any different from newly recruited teachers who can’t perform.

So we don’t think that intelligent teachers will worry about this call for a simple aptitude test. In fact, applicants should demand that aptitude test results are published so that the recruitment process is not left to those who failed but bribed their way out.

And while we are looking at people who are badly qualified for public jobs, we must not leave out our politicians. In Zambia today, our political face is pimpled with dunderheads who can’t lead, not even chickens. In fact, the dullest are the noisiest, even in Cabinet.

So our challenge is for our political leaders to take up the Teaching Service Commission challenge. Starting from the sitting President, we need top public office bearers to regularly demonstrate that they are in charge of their faculties. The same way Dora Siliya has started, facing the media every Wednesday so that she can answer questions about governance, we need President Edgar Lungu to lead the rest of his ministers in demonstrating willingness to face the people he is leading.

It is easy for anyone to stand on a podium and boast that they have a lot or power, or claim that they are the best Zambia could offer, yet they were afraid to face an aptitude presidential debate during elections.

If our Head of State is as intelligent as we are told and perfectly qualified to lead us as a nation, he must not find it demeaning to go on a live television call-in programme to face questions from citizens. State House must equally organise presidential aptitude tests in form of press conferences, at least every other month so that the Head of State can personally provide answers, not governing through advisors.