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EDUCATION    FOR SOCIO-ECONOMIC GROWTH:       Girls taking lead as academic trendsetters? The case of the just released Grade 9 results

Bernadette Deka-Zulu (PhD Researcher-Public enterprise)

Introduction

Progressive economies have paid attention to the involvement of women in socio-economic matters and all levels of decision making. We cannot talk about women involvement in National matters without looking at fundamental variables such as; access to education and the right to learn.

The recent grade nine exam results have caused an uproar in public spaces both in media and society at large. The released list of top 50 grade 9 results by the ministry of Education show that of the fifty (50) top pupils in the country; 41 are female and nine (9) males. This has caused controversy, some commentators saying “The disparities in results between the boys and girls is because of so much attention, policies and programs centered around the girl child and the neglect on boys”, and others saying free education is the cause of this disparity as only 9 pupils of the 50 represent government schools.

To react to the above perspectives,  it is important to firstly note that education is one vital topic in any society as it anchors the development and economic agenda of any serious government. As such any topic around education is a source of concern for various stakeholders.

Impact of Education on the Economy  

The economic development of a country is linked to the level of education of its labor force. A better-educated workforce is more productive and can contribute to a country’s competitiveness in the global economy. In Zambia, the impact of education on the economy is evident in many ways. 

For example, education has played a role in Zambia’s development as a mining destination, among other giving sectors. The country’s abundant deposits of copper and cobalt have attracted international mining companies, which have in turn created jobs and provided revenues that have helped to spur economic growth. In addition, education has helped to create a trained workforce that can work in the country’s mines and other industries.

Another way that education has impacted Zambia’s economy is through its role in improving health outcomes. A well-educated population is more likely to be healthy and to have access to quality health care. 

Under-education and low literacy rates have made it difficult for businesses to improve productivity and expand operations. Investment in education results in high returns, not only for the individual but also for society as a whole. A 10% increase in the average education level of a country’s workforce raises GDP by 2% to 3%, according to economists at the World Bank. In addition, highly educated workers are more likely to create new businesses and are better equipped to adapt to changes in the labor market.

Zambia’s Grade 9 Top Fifty Pupils – Why 41 Females and 9 Males?

The best 50 Grade 9 results: 

  1. Nine (9) males out of the fifty (50)
  2. Nine (9) GRZ Schools represent the 50 pupils.
  3. Thirty-nine (39) pupils represent Catholic Schools.

These statistics could tell us one or more stories that should not be disregarded. 

Since the early 1990s, girls have outperformed boys on tests, according to recent data from the US Department of Education. What is even more interesting, however, is that this trend is not limited to developed countries. A quick look at the latest data from Zambia shows that of the top 50 students in grade 9, 41 are female and 9 are male. Several reasons can explain why this is so. One possibility is that girls mature faster than boys, both physically and intellectually. This will allow them to better meet the demands of the school. Another possibility is that girls are more hard-working and diligent than boys. They are more likely to focus on classwork and do their homework.

In all given reasons, what is clear is that girls are outperforming boys in school, as witnessed currently in Zambia. This is good news for the country as it suggests that the next generation of women will be more educated and empowered than ever before, which we need for a more learned, informed and focused society, and a more lucrative economy.

Are boys being neglected?

This statement perpetuates the idea that girls are now succeeding because of the different policies and programs tailor made to help them. While insinuating that boys are disadvantaged because of luck of such initiatives. This is a toxic idea in the education space, and development as a whole because the programmes create a fair environment for girls and boys. What this thought is also neglecting is that the girls-only programmes target real girl child problems that have proved for centuries to have been causatives of the failure of girls progressing, even just at the level of passing grade 9. These problems include but are not limited to: periods, early pregnancy, and marriages, all falling under biological and social/cultural umbrella. The need to support the girl child was and still is necessary as females are generally considered a minority, especially in the marketplace.

Hence, given the schools involved in the recent grade 9 results announced, it is potentially misleading to say that boys are neglected compared to the best quality girls’ schools identified here, and yet there are a few public schools that are all girls. The boy child has nothing to do with this. If anything, it is gratifying to note the program has proven that girls excel when given a fair chance to level the bases of both genders.

Is the Government doing enough? 

Catholic schools yet again dominate the top 50, with 39 pupils and only nine pupils representing government schools. 

It is important to note that the competition in catholic schools is consistently high because at admission everyone scored high marks and this is a mandatory selection criterion, whilst government schools may be more graceful to take on even those with lower marks thus affecting their pass rates. Some say public schools need to try harder. It is important to remember that compared to public schools, these schools only accept 8th graders with the highest grades. These Catholic schools have deliberate knowledge empowering programs such as careers guidance and other leadership simulation programs  etc.

Most of these students have achieved 800 or above, which can be called Crème de la Crème. As a Catholic Girls’ school product, I draw experience and pride from this.

As earlier stated, public schools do enroll lower-grade students in the last two years or so. These schools are at a disadvantage even before students enter the classroom.

Furthermore, the girls’ schools listed here (Catholic schools) are not of the kind to receive the initiative of girls’ empowerment efforts simply because they are on the side of the elite/upper class, and are mostly managed by powerful independent bodies such as the Catholic Church. It is managed, therefore, by its school administration system and not by the usual local schools of the masses which are a target for such.

To mitigate the current problems of public schools, we need to borrow and strategically implement different strategies to address some issues and slowly fill the gaps.

Conclusion 

In conclusion, much as recent statistics on the country’s current population shows that there are more females than males (owing to the fact that more than 60% of Zambia’s population are kids and youths below the age of 18 which may translate to number of potential female pupils being higher than that of potential male pupils), topping the list does not at all mean that the number of girls going to secondary school is more than boys as the opposite is more likely because that is the trend in the Zambian school system as far as education is concerned. In fact, as grades progress towards grade 9, number of females at this stage drastically drop.

Notably, over the years, Government has embarked on taking steps to improve the education system by building more schools and improving the quality of education. The private sector also has a role to play in improving education standards. For example, some companies set up scholarship programs to help bright low-income students go on to college.

Nevertheless, when it comes to the welfare of the boychild, we cannot negate the concerns that have arisen from this development (of girls toping boys in exams). The fact that there is a rise in drug and alcohol abuse resulting in the mushrooming of junkies both in formal schools and on the streets, must awaken us to act and put up measures to prevent and stop these vices lest we witness a birth of a new generation of confident girls and less groomed boys who are not ready to live together, regardless of grades or schools attended. As a means, we recommend that parents, organizations and men specifically take an active role as mentors for the boy child.

bernadettedekazulu@gmail.com

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