Since 2005, the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) has been conducting the Satellite Homes research, which is a qualitative survey on the standard of living in select high density areas of Lusaka.

The Satellite Homes is conducted every second month and is meant to complement the quantitative Basic Needs Basket (BNB).

The survey aims at gaining a rich and complex understanding of what life is like in Lusaka's high density areas with a specific focus on socio-economic issues ranging from access and affordability of health care and education, access to food, the availability and affordability of housing, and unemployment and its effects.

Among the areas surveyed include Kanyama, Ngombe, Chainda, Kalingalinga and Kamanga.
The survey has revealed that people still face many challenges in accessing good and quality education.

The survey has also revealed that the government schools have not entirely been able to meet the demand for school places, leaving some children with no access to education. Even for those with a government school close by, the fees and cost of uniforms are prohibitive. When parents cannot enrol their children in public schools, the other option is to enrol them in private schools.

However, not all parents can afford to send their children to private schools as the fees are unaffordable for an average family. For example an average private school in Kamanga compound, one of satellite homes research locations charges ZMK250,000 per term. Other challenges to education include overcrowded classes and a very low teacher-pupil ratio.

The policy of Free Basic Education (FBE), announced by the government in 2002 is progressive insofar as eliminating user fees. However, the 2006 study entitled, "How free is free education?" by JCTR revealed that free education in Zambia was not completely free due to indirect costs such as project fees, transport costs, money for food, and the cost of purchasing school uniforms (or even just decent clothes) and other needed materials.

Nevertheless, this policy has contributed towards progress to Zambia's attainment of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Number 2 on "Achieving Universal Primary Education by 2015." The main target of this goal is to ensure that by 2015, children of both genders will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.

According to the 2011 Millennium Development Goals Progress Report for Zambia, net enrolment in primary education increased from 80 per cent in 1990 to 102 per cent in 2009. This was mostly due to "increased construction of schools, the removal of school fees in 2002 and the adoption of Free Basic Education and Re-entry Policies."

There was also an increase in primary school completion rates from 64 per cent in 1990 to 91.7 per cent in 2009. Despite the primary education target of ensuring that all boys and girls complete primary education has been reached, adult literacy declined from 79 per cent in 1990 to 70 per cent in 2004 and the completion rate in secondary school is still low at 19.4 per cent in 2009.

Perhaps the biggest concern in relation to the policy of free education is the quality of the education being provided. While the goal on achieving universal education will be met by 2015 in terms of numbers, the challenges of inadequate learning materials, low teacher salaries and the high teacher pupil ratio compromises the quality of education being offered.

Often, we hear of high teacher pupil ratio in individual schools. As of 2006, the national average was as high as 57 pupils to 1 teacher. In such an environment, it is difficult for a teacher to pay attention to the needs of every pupil.

Also the kind of education being offered in primary schools does not empower those that complete with skills that can be helpful in making sure that one is self reliant even without accessing secondary education.

The resulting disequilibrium in the government run education institutions could have contributed to the mushrooming of the profit motivated private schools. However, the cost of education in the private schools is high, which makes it unattainable to most households, especially those in high density areas

The value of education and ultimately knowledge acquired in schools varies depending on how well it is applied after its acquisition. Often times the quality is not high enough to enable one to apply it. As education is the backbone of every nation's economic and social progress, the quality must be high if it is to have positive effects.

Basic education enables people to effectively contribute to civic duties and also apply their skills to contribute to economic growth. The richness of investments in health and sanitation programmes depends on good basic knowledge among the recipients. Therefore, the question of limited school places must be responded to quickly.

Low quality of basic education manifests itself later as pupils fail to advance to tertiary education or effectively apply themselves in employment. As in the production process, "the quality of your inputs determines the quality of the output you get."

As has been expressed before by the JCTR and other stakeholders, the policy of free education requires more investment to improve the quality of delivery.

Without a doubt, such a policy requires responses to challenges relating to both supply and demand factors. For instance, employing more teachers and remunerating them well, purchasing more teaching aids and implementing school feeding programmes would significantly improve the quality of education.
The government should start planning beyond meeting the MDG on education.

Rather, focus on improving standards of education and prepare people to effectively contribute to the growth of the economy. As the 2011 MDG Progress Report notes, "the emphasis needs to be on the quality of education, achieving higher completion rates for girls in secondary education and improving access to post-secondary education and skills training."

How do you think the Zambia's education system could be improved so that it contributes to meaningful development?