The appeal made by UNICEF country representative, Lotta Sylwander, to the Zambian government to extend free education beyond Grade 7 to Grade 9 by next year should be applauded by all citizens who have the interest of the youth in the country at heart.
In fact, the provision of free education from Grade 1 through Grade 12, as I have often maintained, is long overdue. We also need to abolish Grade 7 and Grade 9 elimination examinations.
There are some citizens who fear that the provision of free education from Grade 1 through Grade 12 without elimination examinations will erode the quality of formal education in the country. Here is how we can maintain the quality of education after abolishing Grade 7 and Grade 9 elimination examinations:
1) End-of-term and end-of-year examinations should continue to be administered to gauge each and every pupil’s intellectual development. And transcripts showing students’ performance in these examinations should be made available to parents and guardians in order to afford families the opportunity to bolster school authorities’ efforts to counsel and motivate pupils.
2) Home work should be mandatory, and should be given out to each student weekly or fortnightly.
3) Computer laboratories should be established at educational and training institutions nationwide, and the computers should eventually be connected to the Internet. We need to equip the youth with the computer skills they need in order to compete successfully in the modern socio-economic system.
4) A teachers’ council and an accreditation board should be established and charged with the responsibility of monitoring, regulating and boosting the standard and quality of formal education nationwide.
5) The Ministry of Education should work closely with the Private Schools and Colleges Association to have examination centers at all private schools at public expense.
6) We should make a sustained effort to cater for the basic needs of the educational system, including: (a) schools and classrooms that are adequately equipped for both teaching and learning; (b) qualified, self-motivated and well-paid teachers in every classroom; and (c) competent school administrators on competitive conditions of service, and adequate office supplies and fixtures.
7) Publishers of educational books like the Zambia Educational Publishing House and the University of Zambia Press should be adequately financed in order to make it possible for them to have the necessary mate rial and financial resources to saturate the local market with low-cost reading materials.
8) Taxes on all kinds of school supplies and reading materials should be removed in order to make them more affordable and provide greater opportunities for Zambians – both young and old – to enhance their knowledge and skills.
9) Postal rates for all reading materials and school supplies packed in the presence of a postal supervisor should be reduced.
Besides, high-school graduates who would obtain a Division 1 should be automatically awarded scholarships upon being accepted at any Zambian college or university. All other high-school graduates and working Zambian men and women wishing to pursue further studies should be granted with low-interest loans upon being accepted into classroom-based or correspondence-based study programs offered within Zambia.
With frugal management of our financial and material resources, we can easily improve infrastructure in schools and employ more teachers and school administrators to cater for the needs of additional students in Grade 8 through Grade 12.