5 December 2012

Zambia: Nkrumah Debate - Way Forward


IN the first place, within this country, cases of riots in our tertiary institutions, premature closures, the smashing of cars by irate students at our universities (UNZA, CBU) and other tertiary institutions which often dominate headlines, were for the first time given a rare glimpse by Mr Innocent Ndona's ingenuous seizure of 'The African University Day' to come up with that article.

This is my take on the matter after a sober reflection and analysis of how this gentleman framed his article and I propose that a debate of this relevance should adopt this direction.

Though I had a rude shock to see how his colleague got a wrong angle to Mr Ndona's article, I still believe picking up the broken pieces and re-assembling this 'treasure' will prove helpful to the Nkrumah lecturers - who have been teaching degree students for four (4) years without a corresponding salary as well as to our students whose learning environment lacks proper conditions that befit a university.

For example, the article confirms that the institution lacks a well-stocked and fully updated library with relevant study material. It also spells out that students have inadequate copies which serve as study materials since the copies in question do not match up with the numerical load of the student capacity at that institution, both full time and DE students (during their residential sessions).

The enrolment levels are abnormally large, compared to the obtaining copies in the library; and the content, too, of those few copies in the library are more skewed towards the progene diploma programmes which the institution was offering.

Besides, internet and computer facilities too are either inadequate or are not configured to correspond with the enrolment levels that the institution has absorbed.

As if that is not enough, the institutional infrastructure and administrative structures are found wanting because students literally struggle to meet deadlines in their assignments and can therefore not be expected to gain the same level of knowledge like their colleagues undertaking similar programmes at institutions which have all these determinants or benchmarks in place.

Structures such as a university council, university senate and the office of the vice-chancellor would have helped to bring sanity to the institution. This is clearly what Mr Ndona clarified in his second article when he argued that "you cannot climb a tree from the top, descending downwards".

The absence of following a step-by-step format when transforming an institution from college to university level leads to poor standards and there is no question about it. You can argue in good, academic language and try to defend the indefensible but this, fellow countrymen and women, is the end result: poor standards.

What we need is quality education to be offered no matter where we are, geographically, or economically. Zambia needs tertiary institutions that offer high quality education if we are to be hopeful about our tomorrow!

I would like to believe that it is this class of tertiary institutions which Mr Ndona alludes to, as world-class universities as stated in his rhetorical question - and it does not matter whether these institutions are based in Africa, Asia, Europe or North America.

In my view, this is what both Kennedy Muzata and the supposedly retired head teacher Priscilla Hamududu, have failed to grasp from Mr Ndona's argument.

It is also important to state clearly that Mr Ndona discounted in his initial submission as qualifying for an academic paper. He stated that the copy was condensed from 10 pages to two pages because it was rephrased as an article and not an academic paper.

It, therefore, goes without saying that the question posed in that article was not structured as a research question but as a rhetorical question: "Can African universities attain world class standards". I am pretty sure that there must have been some element of selective amnesia (choosing what to remember) by Priscilla Hamududu.

Another crucial aspect brought to this argument is that Ms Hamududu, who comes out in total defence of Kennedy, has lumped up the adjectives used by Mr Ndona in such a way that once the context within which such words and phrases are used is lost, the reader who never retained or stumbled on the initial article the writer refers to ends up with a complete distortion of Mr Ndona's perspective and character.

Priscilla should have stuck to the context and itemise each and every case within a particular context. For example, let's take the term 'ignorant'. It is one thing to say 'you are ignorant' as in implying illiterate, uneducated, backward, etc.

However, Mr Ndona's use of the term was confined within the context of Mr Muzata not having been present long enough to understand the context of how certain infrastructure like Paid-esa were acquired, hence, being ignorant about how certain stages of that transformation came into being.

In my view, Priscilla who started her article so well, has become a bedfellow of the man she came out strongly to condemn or denounce - in tacit support for the embattled Kennedy. Take for example, where Priscilla poses the question: "Do we really have intellectuals in this country?"

But does this not make our so-called retiree fall into the same trap? Why judge one to reflect the rest? In my view, Priscilla shot herself in the leg and has fallen into the same trap she strongly wished to disassociate herself from in her desperate effort to salvage the young man - Kennedy. This is an apt distortion of facts and one's character.

It must be clearly spelt out that the concerns Mr Ndona brought in his first article equally came up in The Post neswpaper of November 1, 2012 when former permanent secretary Mirriam Chinyama visited the institution.

The Parliamentary Committee on Education in 2010-1, headed by Ms Faustina Sinyanwe by then, also raised serious concerns which are still in line with Mr Ndona's arguments.

In short, for the lecturers who have been working almost for nothing to water down Mr Ndona's revelations again raises more questions than answers.

As Priscilla rightly pointed out, this debate must continue and it also calls for a sober reflection about this paradox.

To begin with, I do not think I can be convinced that these lecturers are happy to work for charity for four years. I really find it painfully hard to accept: either logically or 'religiously' that a person who laboured for four years like 'slaves' (to quote Mr WakwinjiInambao, spokesperson for Nkrumah staff at the time - The Post, November 1, 2012), would keep such a secret for that long and get so annoyed to hear that this secret is being divulged to the general public!

As if that is not enough, this case involves intellectuals, not labourers! In other words, these are people whose training and job description involves 'intellectual ingenuity' or mental power, not muscle power. This state of affairs in the camp of Nkrumah lecturers - from my perspective - raises more questions than answers. For example:

i) Are some members of staff benefitting from this on-going confusion? Is there a clique that has been benefitting more than the rest and as such, they are still frantically running around with oxygen masks to keep this 'lie' alive?

ii) What did the planners at Ministry of Education have in mind when deploying lecturers and students to the institution without funding the running costs?

iii) Was money to purchase books or study materials for students disbursed by the ministry? If so, what has brought about these gaps and inexplicable discrepancies like, for example, the number of copies not matching up with the student capacity of a newly-transformed institution?

iv) Why has the ministry which supposedly planned meticulously for the transformation been so reactionary from the word go: e.g, a) lecturers had to fight for Paid-esa; b) DE?

v) And why should DE funds be channelled towards the running costs of the full-time programme? I mean, which is the forerunner of the other?

vi) Without DE, how was the institution going to operate in its new status?

vii) Why did both Governments, MMD and Patriotic Front exclude Nkrumah transformation for four years in the budgetary allocation whose programme they knew too well?

viii) Why do parents pay so much for almost nothing? Has the Government abrogated its obligation to pay staff?

ix) Why did the media and some members of staff stifle Mr Ndona's incisive contributions? Does he know too much such that this whole debate had to be smeared and diverted?

x) Is Nkrumah a College of Education a university college or a university?

xi) What clinical dosage has kept Nkrumah lecturers for so long without any noticeable complaints that could have generated a sympathetic public opinion?

As we examine these rhetorical questions and the contents of the initial article by The Post newspaper of November 1, 2012 when the then Permanent Secretary for Ministry of Education, Ms Chinyama visited Nkrumah University College, there is something odd that compels all of us, as patriotic citizens to keep track with this debate.

The confusion, the silence and the 'anger' at the discovery of this odd situation (by some members of staff) means a lot more than an ordinary eye can see.

There is something 'fishy' about the Nkrumah transformation. This is too odd to be true and, indeed, to be normalised as acceptable, if indeed that Post newspaper article which quoted the spokesperson for lecturers, a Mr Wakwinji Inambao when the then Ms Chinyama visited the institution is a true reflection of the situation.

Are lecturers really working like slaves - confirming the absence of proper salaried pay for four years?

If so, then the debate raised by Innocent Ndona aimed at brainstorming the nation on the transformation of Nkrumah University College, should be sustained until the truth is known.

The fact is that when you have demotivated staff, with poor learning and teaching materials, the end result is lack of quality education provision.

Given the more than six earmarked universities set for transformation, Nkrumah lecturers and students should have seized this golden opportunity opened by Mr Ndona to garner and sustain pressure so that the powers that be can prioritise this institution's transformation against the so many other competitors on the score sheet.

Parents, guardians and concerned educationists should have jumped into this hot potato to find out what exactly has been going on at Nkrumah during that college's four years of offering degree programmes.

We just cannot afford to allow emotions like those emitted by the allies, Priscilla and Kennedy, to derail this important debate.

I am challenging the media to take this issue up instead of all of us burying our heads in the sand. Mr Ndona's concerns about standards and the lapses in policy formation require urgent attention from stakeholders.

We should therefore never allow emotional outbursts to derail a debate of this magnitude. In my view, a serious audit should be undertaken and architects of this transformation investigated to ascertain the extent and depth of the rot. There seems to be a lot more to it than meets the eye.

The presence of UNZA, too, amidst such gaps, raises more questions than answers. What quality is being assured in such a poor learning environment when students lack relevant research and study materials? I hear, above all, that students - and not Ministry of Education, are made to pay extra cash per head in order to have their work externally examined by UNZA amid such discrepancies.

Can a comprehensive review of UNZA, CBU, Nkrumah's distance education programmes' viability be undertaken so that the nation does not end up with educationists stashing up allowances amid porous standards under the guise of offering education to our desperate young people and those already in full-time employment who wish to upgrade their qualifications.

The money the learners pay should match with the quality of service and education that is provided to them. It actually comes out very clearly that Ministry of Education brought in the distance education programmme at Nkrumah in order to meet the running costs of the full-time programme.

And lecturers were seemingly deployed to the institution for no other reason than cheap labour, which, to me, still remains very paradoxical for educated people to be exploited for that long in silence.

All those covering up the lapses in this transformation should search their consciences. A closer view brings out a Ndona who is fighting a people's battle.

The most potent weapon in this battle, so it seems, is pseudo-information, which George Orwell (in his novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four) describes as "consigning to oblivion unacceptable truths".

Let the Nkrumah debate take this new direction.

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