Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Our challenges in education
By Editor
Wed 05 Feb. 2014, 14:00 CAT

Finance minister Alexander Chikwanda says Zambia has remained stagnant due to weak investment in education.
And Chikwanda urges that "We should not gloss over the challenges that we have in the sphere of education. There is no other way any society can go forward without commensurate investment in education. Education is the only way through which societies enhance productive capacities of their nationals." We agree.

Our country's position in the emerging world of globally interconnected economies will doubtlessly be dictated by how successful it is in overcoming the severe limitations of its educational system, which is the foundation of sustained development.

Our country's future depends on the educational advancement of its people. Despite heavy expenditure on the sector over the decades, the rules of the system have proved to be significant hurdles to improvement. The system remains non-adaptive.

Achieving constructive improvement in our educational system will certainly be a cumbersome task. And this will require all our educated people to take up the cause of those who desperately need an efficient education system.

Education is one of the main factors that determine our attitude. As in the case of having a meal, it is not how much you consume that matters but how much you digest and use. In reality, we have knowledge and wisdom in information, but the thirst remains. A good education system ought to teach us not only how to make a living but also how to make a healthy livelihood.

Allocations of public spending on education have to be channelled properly. There is need for some revolutionary thinking on how to optimise the allocation in a proper manner.

The growing economy of Zambia needs a large number of citizens with a range of professional skills. The system should be able to ensure their employability. To achieve a proper blend of skilled people, vocational education has to be accorded utmost attention. The number of vocational institutions will need to grow.

The remarkable economic success of the Asian tigers has long fascinated the world. But how did the Asian tigers become an economic success story? This question warrants an overview of public policies that facilitate their fast and sustained economic growth. Initially, the policies and economic plans adopted by the Asian tigers were not much different from the policies and plans pursued by Zambia.

For example, South Korea started its journey towards economic takeoff with import substitution. But then the roads diverged. The Asian tigers sustained their economic growth at least for three decades since their takeoff in the 1960s, whereas our economic growth preceded in fits and starts. The Asian tigers witnessed, on average, more than a seven per cent growth rate between 1960 and 1990. In 1990, their share in the economy of the developing world was almost 34 per cent.

Several explanations have been put forth for the unprecedented economic growth of these countries.
The education and human development indicators of these countries were much higher compared to other developing countries even prior to their economic takeoff. Distribution of land and income was comparatively more equitable due to early land reforms.

The argument goes that the economic miracle of the Asian tigers was mainly due to their initial conditions. Skilled workforce and comparatively equitable distribution of resources provided an impetus to the growth process.

Politico-strategic factors are also cited as an explanation for the Asian economic miracle. First, the United States provided support to South Korea and Taiwan due to its geopolitical interest in the region. Second, Korea, Taiwan and Singapore enjoyed a great deal of political freedom to deal with rent-seeking preferences of the bureaucrats and other vested groups due to the authoritarian regimes in these countries.

Park Chung-hee in Korea and Chiang Kai-shek in Taiwan are particularly credited with steering these countries out of poverty and putting them on the path of sustainable growth. Third, timely land reforms in South Korea and Taiwan helped eliminate a potential source of opposition to industrial initiatives. Land reforms were also vital in the initial stages of development at least from these three angles.

First, land reforms increased rural productivity and income, increasing domestic savings as a result. Second, higher incomes resulted in higher demand for goods. This was needed before finding demand for goods in the outside world in the form of exports. Third, redistribution of income contributed to political stability, an important factor in creating an environment for domestic and foreign investment.

The third broad explanation for the economic success of the Asian tigers is the proactive role of the state in economic development. The governments of these countries made liberal use of industrial policies. They invested in ports, transportation and telecommunication. For example, Singapore focused on an adequate supply of electricity and on developing an effective telecommunications system that proved instrumental in making it a financial hub.
The governments of these countries created markets rather than depressing them. For example, postal saving banks were created to channelise domestic savings, and development banks were established for the rationing of credit on the basis of well-defined and transparent parameters.

Priority industries were given preferential access to capital, credit and foreign exchange. The governments also provided subsidies, such as provision of credit at lower interest rate, to the favoured industries. Governments actively encouraged firms to export. Exports provided a performance-based criterion for allocating credit, encouraged the adoption of international standards, and accelerated the diffusion of technology. Contests among exporters were widely used as incentive devices.

Now the question is: what lessons can we learn from the development stories of the Asian tigers? First of all, we need to appreciate that much of their focus was on development of human resources by investing in education and training of their people. For example, in South Korea, the expenditure per student at the primary level increased by 355 per cent (in real terms) from 1970 to 1989, whereas in our case, it was declining during the same period. We need to realise that our people are our real assets. The youth bulge can become our competitive advantage if we invest in human resource. Unfortunately, our public spending on education, training and health of the people is relatively still very low.

Equitable distribution of resources and incomes, on the pattern of the Asian tigers, is a must for political stability. In our case, gaps have widened with the passage of time. Wide economic and social disparities can never result in sustainable growth.

To follow in the footsteps of the Asian tigers, we need to invest more in education and training. Education is a vital component of any society. As Thomas Jefferson wrote: "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never shall be."

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