UPND’s ‘free education’ must not give loans to low quality or ‘rich’ students

[By Austin Mbozi]


We want to support the UPND’s free education to succeed. For expert guidance I urge new education minister Douglas Syakalima to engage with the following UNZA dons: Dr Gift Masaiti, Dr Kapembwa Myenya and Dr Nelly Mwale. They jointly published an international journal article entitled ‘Shifting from Government Bursary to Loan Scheme’, Zambian experience (2016).

My proposals below are intended to invite general public debate and alternative ideas. I suggest that the Hakinde Hichilema administration must:

(a) offer grant-type free education for all only up to Grade 12, (b) support up to Grade 12 only pupils passing above 60 per cent in Grade 9, (c) give training loans for small-scale entrepreneurship to Grade 9 and 12 drop outs but who got above 45 per cent, (d) give loan-type free education to degree and diploma students only and ( e) send to prison those who fail to repay a minimum of 10 percent of their loan annually, so long they are healthy even if they get no job after graduating.

In this article ‘grant-type free education’ means educational support which is not repaid: ‘loan-type support’ is repaid.

Why grant-type for all up to grade 12?

First, to encourage parents to send their children to school; second, educational support is cheaper up to Grade 12 and third, Zambia needs the basically educated. But even here parents must pay for books, uniforms and transport to school. Government should pay teachers, for meals, for tuition and construct schools.

Dear young people, don’t be deceived that Kaunda’s free education was a complete success. By the late 1980’s he introduced some fees. By 1991 his government was broke, accumulating some US $7.3 billion foreign debt, partly because his education was too free. In my Grade 1 at Chalimbana we were given rubbers, pencils, sharpeners, crayon, a whole Mulenga and Jelita text book to draw in, transport to sports and food on Independence Day!

Why help up to grade 12 only these getting above 60 per cent?

Because government must pay for the brilliant and it has no money for average pupils. Dear young people, do not be deceived that Kaunda paid for everyone ‘up to university’. He only paid up to Grade 7 for all. Thereafter, only about 30 per cent got places to secondary school. Ask President Hichilema or education minister Syakalima how many from their Grade 7 classes passed with them to proceed to secondary school. Many of their generation will tell you only 10 out of 45 in their class progressed. Worse, more dropped out at Form 3.

In Kaunda, available places determined who proceeded to secondary school, so the cut-off point rose or dropped annually depending on how many passed well. If this government determines a fixed 60 percentage pass, standards will improve while more children will advance to Grade 12 and government planning for education support will be easier.

Why loans for entrepreneurship skills to Grade 9 and 12 leavers?

First, because these children will actually have passed but only failed to fight for limited funds to proceed. Second, they will repay or be arrested as suggested here. Third, the new ministry of small-scale businesses should not waste money empowering untrained black businesses as wasted in UNIP, MMD, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Very few of us blacks have President Hichilema’s ‘calculator boy’ mentality, physical discipline and business focus. Read Chika Onyeani’s Capitalist Nigger (2000). Black people globally are most unproductive consumers. Our cultural mentality needs training.

Why offer free loans only to diploma and university?

Obviously, it is the best who get degree and diploma places to state institutions. Offering loans to tertiary education certificate is not affordable. So, such low-level certificate education can be paid for by students while government only helps pay lecturers.

Dear young people, do not be deceived that Kaunda offered free education for all tertiary education. Only some 5 per cent of Zambia’s population went to UNZA and CBU state universities. Ask my intake mates Malfred Molela, Francis Kabosha or Loyd Mweene. At Mumbwa Secondary School only 11 of us (males only) passed to state universities from four stream classes totalling about 160 pupils. The rest passed, but they had to pay their way to some diploma colleges.

Why imprison those who don’t replay?

First, many well-off Zambians will avoid these loans and pay to private universities. This will solve the problem faced by Kaunda and which President Hichilema lamented about in parliament where even the well-off do get educational support needed for the needy. Second, only seriously ambitious poor youths will get the loans and take their studies seriously. Third, the Higher Education Loans and Scholarship Board (HELSB) will rely on repayments to help new students. If beneficiaries don’t repay, HELSB will demand more government funds.

Of course, HELSB has since 2004 benefitted some 45,000 students, and in 2019 alone collected some whooping K40, 467, 492, 24 which is helping new students. HELSB replaced Kaunda’s 1962-formed Bursaries Committee which ran out of funds because of its non-repayment policy. HELSB also supervises scholarships from foreign support. It is currently extending from UNZA and CBU to new state universities of Mulungushi, Mukuba, Kwame Nkurumah and Chalimbana.

UPND promised, rightly so, to increase HELSB seed funding. But its manifesto is too nice on recovery where only those ‘financially capable’ must repay. Unfortunately, many will take advantage, continue getting loans knowing that in future they will get away with crying not ‘financially capable’ to repay. Currently, HELSB is mainly able to collect from those in formal jobs. And even here it faces problems, forcing it to engage the Zambia Revenue Authority to assist. Yet, most future youths will get into small scale private businesses where detecting ‘financially capable’ loan debtors is hard.

The author is a University of Zambia lecturer and author of Language Politics in Zambia (2018). Mobile +260 978 741920. Email: austin.mbozi2017@gmail.com

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