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ZCEA compares Lungu’s SONA to a ‘mirage’

THE Zambia Civic Education Association says President Edgar Lungu’ s speech to Parliament was as illusionary as a mirage.

Executive director Judith Mulenga said the speech was about water in a desert that keeps receding as one draws near.

“Seriously the President’s speechwriters think Zambians do not read nor do they listen so they can simply be ‘smeared with butter!’ The contradictions in the President’s speech were the embodiment of oxymoron. I think like all things with this regime painting a good picture overrides everything including reason. It does not seem that after the various departments submit information to go into the President’s speeches, there are final edits, ensuring consistency, cohesion and logical flow,” she said. “For example, in the same speech Zambia suffered drought and floods due to the effects of el nino but has produced bumper harvests! This, in a country whose majority of farmers are small-scale farmers that depend on rain water for farming? Who is being counted here? The majority Zambian farmers or the few well-endowed commercial framers?”

Mulenga said another example was the number of engineers and scientists had increased from 23 per cent to 30 per cent and yet the much lauded road construction is led by Indian and Chinese engineers.

“Then there is the pretence at crunching numbers when they are being pulled out of a hat! For instance, the President’s speech erroneously claims that the education sector reduced the teacher-pupil ratio ‘previously,’ without stating the period, from one teacher to 75 pupils in primary school to one teacher to 45 pupils in 2019. Similarly, in the same period the teacher-pupil ration in secondary schools was reduced from one teacher to 68 pupils to one teacher to 35 pupils,” she said. “And yet an overview of the 2019 Ministry of Education performance report presented at the joint annual review on 25th August 2020 stated that by the end of 2019 the teacher-pupil ratio in primary school was one teacher to 61.9 pupils and the teacher-pupil ratio in secondary school was one teacher to 36.9 pupils. Why put a spin on numbers that anyone can walk into a school and count the children in each class?”

Mulenga said the budget was the only commitment that a government makes for the realisation of children’s economic and social rights which includes the right to education and healthcare services.

“In 2018 the African Child Policy Forum classified Zambia as being among the least child friendly governments on the continent because, among other social services for children, its expenditure on education as a percentage of our gross domestic product is less than 10 per cent despite the prevalence of multiple deprivations amongst our children,” he said. “The African Child Policy Forum cited Zambia, as having fallen to 48th place out of 52 countries on the continent due to its reduced commitment to children’s basic needs, services and wellbeing since 2014! With this rating in 2018 and the budget allocation to the education sector consistently reducing from 2018 at 16.1 per cent of the total budget to 15.3 per cent in 2019 to only a paltry 12.4 per cent of the total budget in 2020! How then can there be positive development in the education sector without a corresponding public investment? By magic? The 52 science, technology engineering mathematics schools are just in name as they have inadequate properly equipped laboratories and workshops.”

Mulenga said it was also interesting to hear the President’s animated elucidation of how, according to him, children and young people took advantage of the schools’ closure to, indulge in sex leading to teenage pregnancies, early marriages, rape, defilement, alcohol abuse, incest and other delinquencies.

“Why does the President think that children are amoral who at the earliest opportunity want to indulge in sex leading to ‘teenage pregnancies, child marriages, rape, defilement, alcohol abuse, incest and other delinquencies?’ Why does he think children being in school is a panacea for the vices he outlines in his speech? Us who engage with children know how desperately they looked for something to positively occupy their time during the school closures,” she said.

Mulenga said ZCEA had hoped that the President would direct the Ministry of Education and stakeholders to research into the development of sustainable learning tools for individualised at-home learning and also research access to digital platforms for the 45.4 per cent of children who live in extreme poverty.

“If the ‘leaving no one behind’ as espoused in our national development plans is just an empty slogan why should we believe that President Lungu’s government will implement the, ‘dedication, resilience and innovation: pursuing economic recovery for the Zambia we want? Fool me once!” said Mulenga.

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