Education and Training in Zambia

By Henry Kyambalesa


In 1917, a philosopher by the name Alfred North Whitehead warned about the ill-fated destiny of a society which does not make meaningful investments in its people’s education that is perhaps truer today than it was during his time:

“In the conditions of modern life, the rule is absolute … [a nation] which does not value [education] … is doomed.”

It should, therefore, be obvious that accessible and high quality education can be said to be the most important investment a government can make. It is not possible for any society to succeed in the pursuit of other human endeavours without adequate pools of enlightened citizens.

In general, education is among societal members’ fundamental rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26(1):

“Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available, and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.”

There is clearly a need for the government to make a sustained effort to cater for the basic needs of the educational system by ensuring that schools and classrooms are adequately equipped for both teaching and learning; that every classroom has qualified, self-motivated and well paid teachers or lecturers; and that institutions of learning have competent school administrators on competitive conditions of service and adequate office supplies and fixtures.

In the ensuing sections, I wish to comment on the government’s decision to impose the teaching of selected Zambian languages in schools from Grade 1 through Grade 4, and the creation of a Higher Education Authority.

Local Languages in Schools:

There are no tangible or conceivable benefits to the nation and/or to school going children which are likely to accrue from the contemplated change in the language of instruction from English to a selected number of local languages for school children in Grade 1 through Grade 4.

Nationalism as an end in itself has become irrelevant in a globalizing national context. English, whether we like it or not, has become the ‘Lingua Franca’ in commerce and trade in the integrated global market for goods, services, labour, capital, and technology.

Any country that wants to compete on the global or world stage, therefore, would do well not to formally and unnecessarily subject its young citizens to a potpourri of tribal local languages.

There are many hitches associated with the contemplated change in the language of instruction in schools from English to a selected number of local languages for school children in Grade 1 through Grade 4.

Firstly, our beloved country has become heterogeneous in terms of tribal identities due in part to inter-marriages. There are, for example, many husbands and wives who have settled in provinces which are not their provinces of origin. Imposition of a third tribal language on such parents’ school-going children would be contemptuous.

Secondly, foreigners in diplomatic missions and expatriates based in Zambia will have problems in finding nearby schools for their young children which will not require instruction in local languages.

Thirdly, Zambian citizens relocating to English-speaking countries to study, to work in the country’s diplomatic missions, or for other reasons, will have to enrol their young children in elementary English classes in order for such children to catch up to the level of their classmates.

Fourthly, the Zambian nation is composed of 73 distinct tribes, each one of which has a distinct language. To impose 7 local languages—that is, Bemba, Kaonde, Lozi, Lunda, Luvale, Nyanja, and/or Tonga languages—on 66 of our country’s tribes and their languages would be synonymous to treating the citizens who belong to such tribes as second-class citizens.

UNIP and Dr K. D. Kaunda kept the country united and stable for 27 consecutive years by avoiding such a controversial and divisive experiment!