Hope is fading fast: Fully fund college education or prepare for massive student discontent and protests!

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Now that’s not good. This is unacceptable. It slowly but surely starts to be stressful, very stressful in fact, and boring. Where is the plan, or the funds, nearly six months after our national elections on August 12, 2021, to fully fund university education from the public purse? Hakainde Hichilema and his UPND friends now in government must answer these questions, and quickly. They promised, and still talk about, free education.

Millions of young people, unemployed, in colleges, universities and parents voted for the UPND and Hichilema because they promised “free education”. Of course, nothing is free – everything that needs money is paid for. “Free education” is paid for by governments out of public funds on the demand of citizens that education be a universal right, a social good; which is what he really is.

A properly educated population is a rich people with knowledge, skills, trades, trades and professions which, taken together, constitute the national wealth and create the wealth of a country. A properly educated population has its creative genius freed to move freely and meet both the small and the big challenges that people face daily. “Well educated” means that the content of education, its cost and its full access are the product of democratic engagements with the citizens of a country.

I’m not even aware of a whisper (pardon me if I’m partially deaf!) about the work of reviewing and redesigning content, structure, infrastructure, cost and access education from birth to death in Zambia, in the UPND government, and to make it ‘free’. Our August 2021 elections were also a rejection of a dilapidated, chaotic, archaic education system totally out of step with our times; an education system that does not help liberate Zambians from ignorance, poverty, unemployment and inequality.

Where are the comprehensive plans to transform the entire education sector, make education a universal right in Zambia and place it on a higher footing to help us meet our challenges? This is what we expected, not drip, drip, drip celebrations releasing small amounts of kwacha into a collapsing education system!

I wrote an open letter to Hichilema, on this column (see News Diggers, Thursday January 6, 2022) on behalf of young people who have qualified to enter the university of their choice but have no one to pay them. I cajoled, begged and pleaded for the UPND government to find the money to ensure that all young people who need to be in college do so, funded by our tax dollars. This does not happen.

Dear young people, the foundations of Zambia were laid by a man who in fact had no more than 10 years of full education. The British left Zambia without a single university; that’s how mean and selfish they are – they even left with the geological maps showing how rich Zambia is in minerals!
Now imagine the courage, risk-taking and foresight of our founding mothers and fathers: they took on the ill-educated Britons, drove them out and, in less than 10 years, from a population of peasants and a small pinch of an educated missionary elite, created Zambia. This meant that initially they had to depend on a colonial civil service and economy. Soon however, Kaunda turned all that upside down. He developed his own Zambian civil service and before long began to nationalize large swaths of the economy, including the copper mines. And he funded education from elementary school through college.

The irony of it all is that a largely uneducated nationalist leadership educated and created Zambia. Today, the same beneficiaries of these educated people are creating a very poor and uneducated Zambia! Just walk around the University of Zambia, look at its dilapidated and crumbling infrastructure, neglected environment, utterly inadequate and poor staff and student accommodation and you won’t even want to go into the lecture halls!

We have learned from the highest instance of UNZA that it is in fact bankrupt, insolvent, and has been for years. Faculty and staff suffer from low salaries unable to sustain them as the backbone of a thriving university. They are paid irregularly, their monthly salaries. Accrued benefits and pensions are in a mess, and demands to fix this mess are falling on extremely deaf and brain-dead heads in government.

The Zambians went ahead and started to establish universities. Its good. However, without proper regulation and massive government support and full public funding of students, these universities are obviously in trouble and risk compromising the quality of studies and lowering the status of what a university should be. Through the public purse, the government must demand strict adherence to the well-established norms and standards for the operation of a university.

Hakainde Hichilema traveled to Dubai to attend the ongoing World Expo. It was good for him. He saw for himself the marvelous wonders the human brain can create when properly and fully educated. He feasted on future technologies that will forever transform human life on Earth. I wonder how he felt when he walked through the Zambian pavilion which looked like an embarrassing little kitchen in a museum compared to all the wonders he saw? Surely he now knows that without a radical transformation of our education system driven by mass democratic commitments and government funding, Zambia is as good as a graveyard?

Now, home alone, young man, you will feel and are truly helpless. You are at the mercy of those you inhabit and the pockets of which you are the parasite, for the time being. You must know a friend or two who are in the same situation as you. Contact them and meet, to reflect and plan together how you will make your sufferings and claims public. Look for others, and soon you will see how many you are, and then you will realize that you are not helpless after all. From there, I leave it to your fertile young minds to figure out how you will get government funding.

If the thousands of young Zambians who cannot begin their university studies this year organize themselves, publicize their concerns and approach relevant government offices to have their concerns addressed, the government will respond. Without it, I’m afraid nothing will happen.

What are the lessons of all this? Zambia is going nowhere unless we put all our young people in good nurseries, schools, colleges and universities at public expense. Our current education system clearly needs a transformation of content, system, infrastructure, cost and access. Unless young people financially excluded from education organize and act on their demands, the government will not rush to meet their needs.

Why not, go ahead and form a “Financially Excluded Zambian Student Movement” or something, and I’ll be among the first to make a humble donation! Go ahead, do it, as Nike says!

I repeat, the August 2021 elections were also a rejection of the financial exclusion of students, a transformation of our education system; and for state-funded education, also mistakenly called “free education”!

(Send your comments to: kalindawalo2010@gmail.com)

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