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Free Basic Education Initiative Right Step in Ending Zambia’s Inequality: Jesuit Scholars

The Logo of the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR). Credit: JCTR

Jesuit scholars in Zambia have lauded the government for introducing free education from early childhood to secondary school level terming the initiative a “right” step towards bridging the gap between the poor and the rich in the Southern African nation. 

In a Monday, February 7 report, officials of the Jesuit Center for Theological Reflection (JCTR) say inequality has been responsible for the “vicious cycle of poverty” among a section of Zambians.

“Abolishment of school fees in all public schools with effect from January 2022 is a step in the right direction in reducing the inequality gap that has plagued Zambia for many years,” JCTR officials say in the statement. 

They add that in the short term, the free education policy, which kicked off on January 10 “does aid in providing a cushion to households insofar as meeting the household basic needs is concerned.”

“Inequality in education continues to condemn the poor to a vicious cycle of poverty. It is a known fact that in Zambia, alongside poverty, it is the high levels of inequality which impede achievement of national goals for long term and inclusive national development,” say officials of the research, education and advocacy institute based in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka.

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While presenting the budget to Parliament in November 2021,  Zambia’s Minister of Finance, Situmbwko Musokotwane, announced the abolishment of fees charged at public early childhood and secondary schools starting January 2022. 

The Minister also announced that the government will recruit 30,000 teachers in 2022 and construct 120 secondary schools to increase access to education. 

In the February 7 statement, JCTR officials commend the government’s plan to construct the schools and hire teachers. 

However, they say, “the government through the teaching service commission needs to address the issue of increased workload for teachers by quickly recruiting the earmarked 30,000 teachers as this is crucial in enhancing the nation’s education outcomes.”

JCTR officials add that in the implementation of the free education policy, “quality of education that will be delivered in view of increased number of pupils and increased workload for teachers should be a key focus.”

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“The first quarter of the year is a lean season due to farming activities and food prices tend to go up,” JCTR officials say in their February 7 report titled, “Rising Cost of Living Underscores the Need for Robust Solutions if the Nation is to See its Development Agenda Deliver for Each Zambian.”

They further say that there has been an 8.24 percent increase in the cost of living between December 2021 and January 2022 and attribute the increased cost of living to inflation and the increased prices to non-food but essential items.

The Jesuit scholars in Zambia also say the first quarter of the year is a lean season due to farming activities and food prices tend to go up.

To address the rising cost of living, JCTR officials say, “There is a need for a sustained stabilization of key macroeconomic fundamentals such as the exchange rate as this is critical in stabilizing the business environment.”

“The need to stabilize variables such as the exchange rate is therefore critical if the rise in the cost of living is to be stemmed,” they say, and add, “The government through the Bank of Zambia must remain on the lookout.”

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The Jesuit scholars also urge the government to actualize “a robust, poverty eradication and development driven agriculture support program that will support the nation’s vision to be a prosperous middle-income nation by 2030.”

They say the seasonality and dependence on rain for agriculture “impacts on food prices continue to undermine the nation’s agriculture development efforts.”

“As the new administration continues to implement various policies in 2022, JCTR urges the Government to find workable solutions to addressing the rising cost of living if the nation is to see its development agenda deliver for each Zambian especially for the poor and the vulnerable,” they say.

JCTR officials urge the government of Zambia to ensure that the implementation of progressive policies achieves the intended objectives and that those most in need are targeted in the implementation process.