Zambia education system entrenching class society

By A Correspondent

 Education has an equalising function across society. Education paves way to several opportunities for both college and job prospects. Despite this huge derivative function of education, Zambia like many African countries, education standard has in the last two decades steadily been declining from primary through to tertiary level.

The decline has inappropriately contributed to building class society in respect of access. Work as a human activity in modern society is anchored or is strongly related to education. Conceivably, the particular type of work one can access is related to the level and type of education one has acquired.

Education and work help in building social beings. Regrettably, high value educational systems according to modern society are becoming increasingly difficult to access or rather enroll for in resource challenged societies.

Traditional or colonised education system unfortunately answers mainly to the question of attendance and imparts little or no skills and knowledge. Consequently the poor cannot compete for job prospects and this condemns them to perpetual diminishing opportunities and poverty. This, therefore, reduces the power of education as an equaliser and, without doubt, entrenches class. Our education system has continued to be agonised by the blunt of little or no funding, which has contributed to a larger extent pitiable standards. This is a tragedy of Zambia’s educational system where neo-liberal policies as designed and advanced by imperialists does not put in money to improve its quality.

There has been sustained inequitable resource distribution to tertiary schools and relatively to primary schools. This lack of resources to the education sector has undisputedly powered disparities.  This inequitable resource allocation to education has separated society into classes and contributes to too many of our penurious children to lack access to school programmes that are essential to closing gaps. Zambia’s educational system has without hesitation been promoting neo-liberalist interests through ‘building’ gaps between the poor, the peasants and the working class on one hand and the rich, and those who own the means of production on the other.

History of education

In the medieval period, the process of human education was fundamental for the development of social groups and their respective societies. This is why their knowledge of their history and past experiences is essential for understanding the direction taken by education in the present. The Zambian educational system is modeled on the Spartan model of education based on rigid discipline, authoritarianism, military arts instructions and codes of conduct, stimulating competition among students, and is on the extreme demands for performance.

In view of its trajectory ancient, medieval and modern, education has not always met the same type of objectives, and, therefore its entire analysis requires a passionate effort of consideration and contextualising. By mid-19th Century the hierarchical and the authoritarian model of education that characterised school institutions came to be questioned by some education scholars such as Maria Montessori in Europe and John Dewey in the United States as being curriculum imposed on the students. Modern education however, is centred on the teacher as a transmitter of knowledge that expanded throughout the 19th and 20th centuries influenced by industrial revolution and consequent urbanisation and demographic increase. The strengthening and expansion of democratic regimes influenced the claim of access to school as a citizen’s right. And education now is given the task of training citizens be aware of their rights and duties and ready to exercise them before society. The Zambian education system has been functioning vis-à-vis quality until the early 90s when the country was declared a Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) during the reign of the reformist government under the leadership of President Frederick Chiluba. The neo-liberalist economic structure promoted private driven economy and this invariably negated adequate funding by government towards education.

Marxism and education

The original theory of Marx has been the subject of many interpretations. Consequently different variants of the theory exist but basic assumptions about the forces of production and the relations of production have been maintained. In the field of education, the different variants have given rise to two major applications of Marx theory. The first argument sees education and schools as a force of production, which controls different class struggles.

Controlling education as a means of productions enables the ruling elite to control relations that govern the production process both in politics and economics. The argument further states that from this assumption education of schooling is profoundly related and influenced by the ideologies of the dominant classes. The level of education provision, the social relations established in schools, the organisation of knowledge and its transmission have been described as political processes. Besides, education is used by the dominant classes to depoliticise the potentially explosive class relations of the productive process and thus, perpetuate the conditions through which a part of the products of labour is expropriated as profits.

The second argument is more akin to neo-Marxist thinking, which sees education institutions as sites of struggle and resistance, where through critical thinking people can be taught to rise against oppression. This thinking is credited to the Marxist idea about the state and revolution.

Despite the various arguments and interpretations Marxism remains an important theory in education especially in the developing world.

Zambia’s education as a class struggle

As rightly observed from the Marxist perspective that education is viewed as the means of depoliticising the masses, Zambia’s educational system, not different from other neo-liberal approaches is premised on depoliticising the masses and subdue their political conscious for the benefit of the political elite. Education has on the other hand been used to politicise against oppression. Education promotes struggle.

It is unacceptable that education, which has been described as an equaliser could instinctively be promoting class society through structural processes such as the exclusionist ways by way of pitiable funding and curricula. Schools for the poor and the rich have emerged and have profoundly divided humanity into two classes and continue to promote this detestable specter. In Zambia, institutions of learning have been categorised and named as either open community schools, government schools or private schools. Comparatively a little better service is given under the private schools and they are flooded by children of comprado or parasitic bourgeoisie. The education system promotes elitist view and those who have acquired the education have not gone back to their villages to use it for home development. Skills for high-flying achievers often have been used in the areas of the rich or towns or they have themselves become comprador or parasitic bourgeoisie.

Socialist view reclaims the original philosophy of education of the sophist and Socratic combined with modern education centred on the figure of a teacher as a transmitter of knowledge. Policy and funding decisions on education in Zambia must emphasise on vocational skills which promote life skills, human value and development and not competition. Education must not condemn others as dull through competition because people come from different backgrounds, hence different experiences and levels of assimilation. It is the government’s duty to provide and promote free, equal and equitable access to education for all.  Zambia’s educational system unfortunately has unconsciously been promoting class society.

The author is an educationist with over 20 years teaching experience

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