The withdrawal of student meal allowances by the PF Government hits the last nail on the coffin for tertiary education. The Zambian public education system has been under constant attack and neglect since the triumph of neoliberal capitalism in1991. It has not been accorded high priority in investment. As a result, it suffers from poor infrastructure, has dilapidated laboratories and libraries, and is run by mostly demotivated and neglected teachers. Even for “Third World” standards, our public education is miserable and shameful.
The brand of capitalism imposed on Zambian society is one that does not value universal education, more especially the access to tertiary education by the poor. The withdrawal of meal allowances for students is tantamount to blocking students from poor families from accessing tertiary educational and by design availing it only to the small elite that is able to meet the cost. The withdrawal of meal allowances is also a crude political attempt meant to stifle any critical thinking amongst the student populace – implicitly blackmailing students and compromising their academic freedom.
In the 21st century, even hard-core capitalist countries have learnt to appreciate universal education as a pre-requisite for enhanced global competitiveness. You do not have to be a socialist to embrace this fact. No enlightened government today imposes unnecessary education costs on poor students. This is why we keep on stating that the PF government is visionless and without direction on education.
Zambia today suffers from a huge scarcity of a sufficiently trained workforce, especially in the science and technological fields. Even in pretty basic areas of trades and vocational training, the quality of our training falls far below those of other countries. Employers, contractors and those demanding quality work prefer to hire skills from Chile, the Philippines, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, South Africa and other countries to our own locally trained citizens. Our social capital formation has deteriorated drastically over the past two decades. The governments and politicians entrusted with the education of our people do not care – their children are often sent abroad using the taxpayer’s money. This is the same poor taxpayer whose child is being denied education. Quality public education is not seen as a right for every citizen, but rather as a government hand-out or an act of charity to a selected few. This is a patronizing and condensating mentality that perpetuates class inequalities in our society whist depriving the whole economy of the benefits of an enhanced social capital formation and resultant productivity gains.
As Marx once described, “the free development of each is the precondition for the free development of all.” A radical transformation of the economic, social and cultural conditions of the masses of our people is only possible where education is no longer a preserve of a few, but rather a right for each citizen. The majority of those from working, peasantry and poor family backgrounds must therefore enjoy access to tertiary education. It is only under such a fair and humane society that we can fully unleash the human potential and creativity of the Zambian population.
The Zambian masses should by now be quite clear what the Minister of Education meant when he was quoted to have told the President that “your Excellency, I can report to you that I have locked the universities and I have thrown away the keys”. It is only the “keys” to accessing tertiary education by poor students that have been thrown away. The reason being that they were not “thankful” of the “privilege” accorded to them by those that govern us. This is a class war – in which the Zambian elite is not hesitant to throw away hundreds of poor students out of the campuses. Allowing the PF government to take away meal allowances from poor students and get away with such a decision would be the worst form of political cowardice and complicity. The workers, peasants and all progressive people of our homeland need to rise to the occasion and stop this madness.