Zambia: Free Education to Help Rural Girls

To promote greater gender equity in the education sector, reducing or providing free education alone may not reverse the trend of early marriages and teenage pregnancies among girls.

EDUCATION has been identified as one of the best remedies to address the relentless trend of poverty in Africa.

However, as basic a human right that all children must have access to, the benefits of education have not been the same for rural girls, who have continued to encounter so many challenges.

There is no doubt that for a long time, poverty and diseases have been obstacles that have been associated to lack of education and efforts are required by different stakeholder to change the status quo.

Therefore, there is need for society to embrace free education from primary to secondary school, although the new United Party for National Development (UPND) has underscored the need for free education up to university level when resources are fully in place.

Free education will enable children in rural and peri-urban areas to complete fully attain the benefits of being schooled and not just children of the elite.

Equally, increase in the rural households' income lead to greater investment in education for girls because families which depend on subsistence farming, when empowered, will set education as one of their priorities for their children.

To promote greater gender equity in the education sector, reducing or providing free education alone may not reverse the trend of early marriages and teenage pregnancies among girls.

There is need for a gender budget in the education sector that will priorities spending to provide a stepping stone for both girls and boys.

This later brings about economic development.

Gender budgeting is an approach that allows governments to promote equality through policies and for administrative procedures structured to address gender inequality in all sections.

As for developing countries like Zambia, reforms will help stakeholders to reorganise their educational priorities to help girls stay in school.

This may require consideration of gender budgeting for the education sector.

The newly elected UPND administration of President Hakainde Hichilema has promised the people of Zambia that it will provide education from early childhood to tertiary level.

The Professional Teachers Union of Zambia (PROTUZ) Director of Public Relations and International Affairs Brian Mwila said free education is welcome.

He said the issue must not be politicised.

Mr Mwila said currently, there is no gender budget in the ministry of General Education, but resources are distributed accordingly in schools, including those in need.

Speaking in a telephone interview, Mr Mwila said what is required is for the country to draw a picture of what the previous Government achieved in relation to providing education.

"If we have failed with the little resource, what then are we going to achieve when education is made free to address girls' education, particularly for those in the rural setup?" he asked.

He said every year, the education sector receives an annual allocation from the national Budget that is presented in Parliament and this is distributed as a lump sum to schools across the country "Our cry as a union is that these allocations are not enough to address the challenges of the school girls in the rural areas," he said.

In addition, Mr Mwila said the allocation does not meet the minimum amount that has been recommended by the international convention for each country to attain education.

He said along the way, because of the limited resources, pressing issues that affect the girls are forgotten because schools need funds to address the challenges that come with girls dropping out of school.

"Our concern with allocating more resources is not with the ministry of General Education (MOE), but the central Government to have the budget allocation increased as the challenges in the sector are a source of concern," he said.

He said most importantly, international declarations such as the United Nations (UN) and the United Educational, Science and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) which Zambia has signed have recommended that countries allocate funds that will push education forward.

In the past few years, different stakeholders have expressed their concern over the reduction of funding, which has negatively affected the education sector.

The 2021 Budget proposed a K13,772,752,981 towards the education sector, which translated into 11.5 per cent of the national Budget.

Of this, K2.7 billion was allocated to secondary schools.

It is important to note that the education sector has seen a reduction of funding in the past years from 20.2 per cent in 2015, to 15.3 per cent and eventually 12.4 per cent in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

This has led to some doubting the aspirations of the Seventh National Development Plan (7NDP) which may prevent the country from attaining the Vision 2030.

The right to education, which has been widely recognised and developed by a number of international instruments, requires that at least15 to 20 per cent of a developing nation's budget be allocated to the education sector.

"We are encouraging Government to continue working towards achieving global benchmarks in public financing for education as the Government has never met the requirements that have been set for a country to attain education going forward," Mr Mwila said.

However, he said the Government should be commended for partnering with a number of stakeholders like traditional leaders, in promoting girls' education.

"We have seen a number of programmes that have been implemented to ensure that the girls are mainstreamed into the learning process by reducing early marriages," Mr Mwila said.

He said his union is concerned about Government concentrating on building girls' schools in the urban areas at the expense of rural areas.

Recently, the UK government committed £9 million pounds to support of Zambia's education sector as well as Small and Medium Size businesses.

The UK government said £7 million will go towards girls' education funding to build and expand schools that will carter for 70,000 children in the country.

The funding is designed to increase secondary school places through new and extended schools.

Mr Mwila said the funding that has been committed, if channelled for the intended purposes, will address the problem of improving the education of the girls in rural areas.

He said the construction of more schools in rural areas will also attract more teachers to work there.

It is through such stakeholder commitments of increased funding that Zambia will benefit from the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number four on education and other education related targets.

Besides the free education that has been promised by the new UNPD administration, there is need for an increase in budgetary allocation to the education sector to specifically address challenges of girls in rural areas if they are to receive equal education for all.

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