SO government has abolished the Academic Production Unit (APU), which were initially introduced to accommodate pupils who could not enter the mainstream education system.
The move has been received with mixed feelings by a cross-section of society, with others largely welcoming it and others seemingly against. Among those in favour of the move is the Campaign for Female Education, whose executive director is Barbara Chilangwa, the former Ministry of Education permanent secretary.
Ms Chilangwa reckons that the abolition of APU classes will result in improved standards of education for the country. She says unlike in the past when teachers got fatigues by the time they spent on APU classes, teachers will now have enough time to concentrate on given lessons. For the record, the abolition of APU classes means that all pupils that were under the programme will be incorporated into the main education system.
On the other hand, Education Minister Dora Siliya in announcing the abolition of APU classes said the move has been necessitated by the fact that government has built more schools to accommodate all pupils.
“Government has put up massive school infrastructure to increase access to schools by pupils,” Ms Siliya was quoted as saying in the media.
Okay, so the move has been necessitated by the fact that government has built massive infrastructure, presumably through-out the country. Well, it is common knowledge that since the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) came into power, they have undertaken to restructure the education system in the country through a series of reforms. Not that education has been the main priority for the MMD. Their main priority has been the transfer of the economy from the State to private hands, beyond doubt through privatization of parastatals. In fact, the education policy of the MMD has never been any clearer. Only recently, it was reported in the private press that government wanted to introduce a Bill in Parliament which would have empowered the Minister of Education to either lease or sell government schools. That particular provision was apparently removed, with little explanation being offered by the powers that be.
On the other hand, the former United National Independence Party (UNIP) government did prioritise education a great deal. They realized early on that education is the cornerstone for economic growth. With less than 100 university graduates, which made the country to have one of the most poorly developed educational systems in the whole of the Commonwealth, they went about building primary and secondary schools in almost all the districts of the country. And for the record, the pace was not that of a snail. This, they complemented, with the establishment of trades and crafts schools, teacher training institutions and the University of Zambia (UNZA). And in the absence of skilled school teachers, the government moved to attract expatriate staff.
So much for the achievements of the UNIP government. But they deserve the credit. Evidently, the same cannot be said about the MMD government, at least in so far as education is concerned. Agreed, in the last two years, there has been a lot of emphasis and actually action in the construction of schools. This is commendable, for it is a departure from the past where government would simply upgrade schools to, say, a high school with corresponding infrastructure development. But then, that has been the MMD policy for almost two decades. It is not far-fetched to say the collapse or decline of our university education in this country falls squarely on the feet of the MMD. While during the time of UNIP, all that parents needed was to simply provide a few requisites for their child to attain the highest possible higher education, the scenario changed under the MMD with those with money seemingly getting a nod over others, even when intellectually they are inferior. Little wonder that UNZA is no longer the bastion of education, for far too many people who have no business being there are the one’s occupying too much space.
But make no mistake; it is not just at university level where things have gone wrong. The scrapping of cut-off points has made lessened competition at Grade Seven and Nine levels. With the cut-off points, pupils were not merely content in ensuring that they got marks enough to enable them get a school certificate, but they would fight hard to ensure they had good enough points to enable them be accepted in a prestigious school. For instance, those who were doing technical subjects such as Geometrical Drawing, Metalwork and Woodwork, they would ensure they score enough to be accepted at either David Kaunda Secondary School in Lusaka or Hillcrest Technical School in Livingstone. But times have changed under the MMD with the latest being the abolition of APU.
Good perhaps it maybe, but is the classroom space that has been added adequate enough to accommodate all the pupils in the normal classroom set-up? How much classroom space does the nation require to absorb everyone in a normal classroom? How many desks do we have, and they are adequate to carter for all the pupils? How about textbooks? How about the teacher to pupil ratio?
Undoubtedly, these are the questions that Minister of education Dora Siliya can help with answers.