Zambia needs radical education sector reforms to drive industrialisation

Zambia needs radical education sector reforms. The quality of education and skills development will determine if the children who are aged 0-10 years old today will become globally competitive workers and captains of industry when they are 33-43 years old in 2050.

In a new report on China-Zambia Relations, ZIPAR points out that while China is facing an aging population, Zambia like the rest of Africa is getting younger with an increasing productive age group. The report indicates that having noticed its aging population dilemma about 1998, China did its homework for a number of years and established the science, Technology, Talent and Education Reform and Development Plan 2006-2020. The plan charted the way for talent discovery, innovation, production sophistication and high technology content exports which has resulted into China emerging as the global leader in exports, accounting for nearly a quarter of all world exports.

On the other hand, what Zambia and Africa have done or are planning to do in response to their different experience of the demographic transition remains unclear. The way Zambian and African exports have remained primary and resource-based, with little sophistication and technology content reflects relatively low-quality stocks of human capital. Little has been done to create world-class workers. Only time will tell whether Zambia’s demographic transition yield demographic dividends or a demographic burden. Other conclusions drawn from the report included:

  • Zambia needs institutional reforms and mind-set changes especially in the public sector.
  • Zambia needs inspiration from the national leadership: this is about establishing a purpose, and setting a vision. It is about finding something grand to believe, something that will define 'who we are’ and ‘what drives us as a people'.

ZIPAR Senior Research Fellow Caesar Cheelo said:

"We can learn a lot from China about how to foster collective ownership of decisions and programmes. How does the State do it in China? For example, China needed heroes; maybe Zambia does too".

In the short-term, given opportunities like Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), some specific policy priorities that ZIPAR is drawing attention towards include:

  • Using FOCAC to support deep-rooted reforms in education, skills development and talent discovery: The first step can be to undertake comprehensive, systematic and time-bound reviews of the education, skills development and talent search sub-sectors and systems, benchmarking against the likes of China.
  • Coping with and mitigating population growth and urbanization as well as environmental decline: China and Africa/Zambia should formulate a common, standardized monitoring and evaluation system for measuring “greenness” including “labour intensity” of FDI projects and activities.
  • Revising the FOCAC approach to exchange initiatives -Africa-to-China learning: Exchanges could be set at a 1:1 exchange ratio; and Africa-to-China and China-to-Africa learning should be the norm, to help resolve cultural differences, language barriers among others.
  • Addressing language and communication barriers: Africa/Zambia should advocate for Chinese and African social and linguistic research centres along with ICT centres to conduct public sector research and development in Language App development, as a specific FOCAC programme.
  • Spearheading the establishment of common investment platforms: China and Africa should establish a common platform such as a Sino-Africa Stock Exchange, to open up equity & projects to co-ownership and local beneficiation.
  • Preventing potentially divisive scramble for Chinese financial resources among African countries: FOCAC should establish pro-rata quota-based and performance-based mechanisms for determining the allocation of FOCAC financial resource to African countries.

 Notes to Editors

  1. This is based on a report titled “China-Africa Trade Developments and Impacts: Case of China-Zambia Relations”. The report is found here: Publications
  2. The report is based on research sponsored by the Chinese Government under the auspice of the China-Africa Joint Research and Exchange Programme.

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