Zambia’s education minister Dora Siliya who is also ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) spokesperson, has in the last few months used Facebook to make important government policy announcements as well as party matters.
A few days ago, Siliya, who holds an MPhil degree from the Cambridge University in the UK and a Bachelor of Mass Communication from the University of Zambia, announced changes in the educational system on Facebook and, as usual, attracted a lot of comments, both positive and negative from some of her 4950 online “friends”. She has also used Facebook to announce policies in the past.
The changes involve the Academic Production Unit (APU), a channel through which basic schools—that run from grade one to grade 9—offer secondary school places to children who fail to make it into mainstream schools with classes mostly running in the afternoons. These classes are also run as fundraising units for the schools which charge the pupils nominal fees for administrative purposes such as paying teachers’ allowances and buying requisites not provided for by government.
Such classes are viewed with a lot of stigma because the pupils are viewed as not being too intelligent and derogatorily referred to as “solar” because they are conducted in the afternoons. But the biggest problem is the lack of support from government. Individual school administrations take it upon themselves to enter the pupils for examinations for which they pay for.
We have transformed apu [Academic Production Unit] to open classes so that same fees and teaching offered to all children and give confidence to many parents since apu we viewed as demeaning since it was for kinds that had certificate but didn't make cutoff point. We believe access must be increased for normal lessons for all children with certificate and above [sic]
There will be teething problems as apu turns to open classes but will continue to build more schools by 2015 and also deal with teachers allowances since there will still be double sessions in most high school. Important point is we need to provide education equitably in our schools not encourage disparities.
Our aim is to ensure all children have access to education by 2015. This means we have to also provide education equitably meaning apu classes seen as demeaning and for those who failed the cut point but got a certificate had to be transformed to open classes where teaching and fees are same with morning classes.
Zambian citizens on Facebook responded:
Emmanuel Mengo said that the government should have collected public views on issue:
madam. I commend u for the work done so far. But dont you think u are in a hurry to change things before u consult widely. Early 2009 u said any child who makes a full certificate automatically makes it to grade 10. My niiece was not given …a place as the people in charge on the schools i went to simply said there were no places. What is on the ground is that there are no enough spaces for all pupils with certificates. U are doing a great job but surelly u are in a hurry to make pronouncements. U ve built a good number of schools in the rural but i believe we need more to be built in towns also in order to cater for the large population. If what we ve seen in the past few years was done in the past 20 years, things cud ve been better.
Chinyama Chisambwe said:
Why do u have to mix who have failed and who have passed mwasata mayo 0/10% access to every 1(education) bt u have failed to pass???????
Thats gret madam,thumbs up 4 u.i fel u shud evn luk in2 da exam fees 4 GCE,they r 2 exotc especialy da centr # fee,ts a nyt mar.z necesary nway?many wud wnt 2 rsit bt bcoz of da chages impozd on thm thy let go hence afectin ya goal as da minstry of educ. Of ensurin dat evry pson gts da rqurd educ.
Kanyanta Robin Sinyangwe listed four areas that the minister should have focused on:
I think what you need to be talking about MADAM isn't about offering the same teaching to all. Because as far as iam concerned, APU and MAINSTREAM use the same SYLABUS. Even ing PVT schools. May be just on the fees that where i conquere wit…h you.
Hon, what you need to be talking about right now is:
1. What you have exactly done with APU (forget the “open school” terminologies, put it in lay man's terms)
2. How the APU will be practical and viably incoperated in the MAINSTREAM SCHOOL.
3. What will happen to the SURPLUS.
4. The time period of converting APU classes to “WHATEVER”
I don't personally have a problem with banning APU classes. But my problem is will have done it in a RUSH. We as a country a ILL PREPARED. In short, we are DOUBLING the numbers of pupils in the morning classes per class. Each school needs to be twice its current SIZE to accomadate the MAINSTREAMINISATION of APU.
I find the IDEA UNPRACTICAL!
Long live PUBLIC EDUCATION!
Leave use BE WITH APU!
Viva EQUITY in OPPORTUNITY!
This POLICY is HIGHLY IMPRACTICAL!
Moses Katongo Chisanga supported the minister:
to those who are critising the removal of apu. do u know that most of private high schools are in the actual fact apu. but luk at how much they charge in terms of fees. so move by grz wil actualy amount to reduction of the gap btwn grz skus and pvt school. it means pupils wil have a wider choice. and its either school reduce their fees or improve their standards.
Jacqueline Chibanga said that education was about quality and not quantity:
Quality not guantity. If pupils fail let them repeat that grade so we can avoid having half baked pupils. Abolishing APU was a good idea but placing the very same pupils in classes that have hard working pupils will jst decrease the chances of the hard working pupils getin the attention from their teachers due to too many pupils in 1 class thereby lowering the standards of the education system in the country.
Charles Forster argued that education and politics should not be mixed:
Education shud be left out of politics.We teachers & the union ve advisd the journalist Dora nt to phase out APU classes.Pupils & parents are busy scouting 4 places instead of being in class!
Moses Katongo Chisanga said:
if you get inside of this issue you will discover that apu is still there exept that they will be paying the same and less fees as the main stream. classes are done in afternon. so where is your argument that the idea will over crowd the cl…asses. if today the teacher ratio is 1 to 70. i dont see this change much. because just like apu the other pupils wil be having classes in afternum. grz should just do more to construct more high skus and greatly improve the condition of services for teachers. VIVA EDUCATION FOR ALL. VIVA NO APU.
On the political front as MMD spokesperson, Siliya also gets comments like this one from Nancy Prisháàn's Mum Yikona:
Honourable Siliya, please dont DEACTIVATE your facebook account when MMD loses.
Yikona writes this in view of upcoming presidential, parliamentary and local government elections later this year.
Apart from discussing serious government policies and her party matters, Siliya gets into writing about English premier league team Manchester United for which she appears to be a fervent supporter.
On Saturday, February 26, 2011 she wrote:
Have since returned from siavonga and heard man united had great game but I was on the road. Do have a blessed family Sunday gudnite
Considering that circulation figures of Zambia's state-owned newspapers, Times of Zambia and Zambia Daily Mail, do not exceed 10,000 daily circulation figures, a Facebook friends of about 5000 is not very bad in terms of reach.