Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Tuesday April 08, 2008 [04:00]
There is no future development without educated citizens. The fact that 78 per cent of the children in the rural areas of our country cannot access a secondary school within less than five kilometres from their homes should be a source of great worry or concern. As we have stated before, a nation which values its future affords the highest priority to providing education for all its young people.
It is very clear that we are not, as a nation, affording the highest priority to providing education for all our young people, especially those in rural areas.
Our rural children are not only faced with the shortage of schools within reasonable distances – within five kilometres of their homes – but they are also facing the challenge of relatively poor education. They have the worst critical shortage of teachers.
And when they have teachers, these are not the best of teachers – they are the worst grade of teachers. They face the worst shortages of learning or teaching aids. Some of them have to walk very long distances to get to schools every day.
Others have to stay in boarding facilities that are totally unfit for children especially those who are in secondary school and need to read. There is no electricity for them to read in the evening. They have no access to television and sometimes, even to radio. Yet, they are expected to compete for places in our universities and higher institutions of learning with other children living in urban areas. These are the worst conditions for such competition. We are really throwing away their lives.
We say this because education, quality education for that matter, is a right that must not be denied to any child or we throw away their lives. This is a great injustice that we need to address with all the tenacity that we can marshal and that we have exhibited in combating other injustices. Our aim should be to foster the integral development of all our children through education.
The education of our young people, especially those who live in rural areas, is a critical challenge facing our country today. It will be interesting to see how those sitting on our National Constitution Conference will try to address this issue and whether they will recognise it as a right that must not be denied to our people. Well, it can be argued that we are a poor country without adequate resources to be able to provide all our children with good or quality education.
But we know of countries in the world that have very limited resources – poor countries – that have not only been able to provide education to all their children but they have also been able to provide quality education that can even compete favourably with those of rich countries. Cuba is an outstanding example in this area and its health sector as well. Let’s learn something from them.
There are great benefits in investing in the education and health of our children. It is not a waste of money. It is actually a very profitable undertaking for a country that wants to move forward, to develop itself economically.
Our children must not continue to be threatened with the scourge of ignorance. Let’s do everything possible to give all of them an opportunity for a good education that will enable them to compete favourably with other children from other lands of this highly globalising world we live in today.
It is sad that the 2007 state of human rights report by our Human Rights Commission in collaboration with the United Nations Development programme reveals that only 22 per cent of our children in rural areas can access secondary school within less than five kilometres of their residence.
This is after 43 years of independence. This makes a mockery of, it actually insults, the efforts and progress that were made by the founders of this nation after independence.
When the liberators of this country took over government in 1964, they embarked on a massive programme of building schools, hospitals and clinics all over the country. In less than 10 years they had succeeded in building at least one secondary school in every district. They had also put up technical colleges or trades schools in almost all our provinces.
They built teacher-training colleges in almost every province. Clearly, they prioritised education and took it to very high heights. But over 40 years later, we have almost brought down everything they did for us.
Let’s change our priorities or else our efforts in development will yield very little, if not nothing. It’s not possible to develop a country without developing its people; a country cannot be built without building the people.
We cannot reconstruct this country without reconstructing the lives of its people. Yes, it is possible for mining companies to come to Zambia and extract copper and other minerals without developing our people. This is what the colonialists did for 75 years. They extracted copper from this country for over seven decades but they could not build even one single university.
They left us virtually with no schools, hospitals, clinics or meaningful infrastructure. And sometimes they even boast that at independence our country was a middle-income country.
What a middle-income country with hardly a hundred university and college graduates in a population of about three million! This was our situation in 1964. And they called this a good economic performance. And we have actually bought into it and some of our people believe that the colonialists managed the economy of our country better than we are doing it.
We have no alternative but to invest heavily in the education of our children if our country is to face the future, which appears so sombre, with confidence and hope.