IT was disheartening to learn that 47 pupils who sat for the National Primary School leaving examinations in Nkasi District, Rukwa Region last year can neither read nor write let alone carry recognise numbers.
And sadly this number is got from only one district. We should all start feeling that even one illiterate primary school leaver is one too many. If all of these 47 pupils had a learning problem the teachers could not cope with where there are no measures to be taken that could have identified their unique needs and address them accordingly?
Or was it that for seven years or more these same 47 pupils never set foot in class, not even once? If not, were the teachers so unconcerned about the poor performance of these pupils over the years? Whatever the case it is an alarming situation that should not be politely swept under the carpet.
We demand answers and solutions now. To make matters even worse according to the District Education Officer (Primary Schools) of Nkasi out of the 9,910 pupils who enrolled in Standard One in 2006 only 3,772 pupils last year sat for the national examinations, that means almost 6,000 pupils dropped out of school over the years.
At least the 47 pupils stuck to their guns and completed their primary education even though they really have nothing to show for all the learning they acquired. Are we building schools so as to satisfy our egos?
Or are pupils these days so difficult to teach? The 'Big Result Now' and not the 'Small Result Later' here should be that, all pupils stay in primary school and turn out with the ability to read, write and handle simple arithmetic.
We have heard enough from educationists providing suggestions for solutions what we need right now is some action. We agree it will take time but we all have to start somewhere and somehow. Taking our rural setting into consideration where most of our primary schools are located.
It does not require rocket science to appreciate the fact individuals who have some education make better farmers and are more capable of finding off farm employment.
According to the World Bank and other international agencies, primary schools located in rural settings in developing countries often suffer as they are remote from the central offices of the Ministry of Education, which distributes instructional resources, so their quality of teaching is poor.
In addition, national schooling models, developed in urban contexts, are not so relevant to rural settings and rural families cannot afford the direct cost of schooling nor the opportunity cost of having their children away for many hours of the day.
Flexibility is required in the education system to allow for pupils to divide their time between school and the chores that await them at home. In addition pupils who are one of the primary stakeholders of education in the first place need to be able to connect with what they learn at school and see how it benefits them in their respective locations both in the present and the future.
There is no reason why farming and husbandry and basic business skills cannot be taught in primary schools. This is possible if schools in rural settings and even in urban settings are introduced to people who can impart skills and are availed resources for teaching children about their rural environment, agriculture and other practical skills and knowledge that complement the academic curriculum.
It is time the education system connected children comfortably to their respective surroundings. Experts further suggest that communities are encouraged to use schools as centres for education and social activities beyond mere schooling. Communities could make schools hospitable for adult literacy classes, extension activities, women's groups, community functions and other activities and events.
This not only brings parents into the school, it also helps transform the school into a multi-function learning and meeting centre. Instead of community members treating schools as alien concepts reserved strictly for children and teachers, more stakeholders can be involved in improving schools and participating in scholastic activities. Let us all encourage a winning streak in our young people and reduce the number of illiterate primary school leavers to zero.