Background of the Problem
The history and the problem of illiteracy are not unique to Zambia as illiteracy encompasses all countries in the world. What matters here is not only the nature and magnitude of the problem, but also what has been done to address the problem. Throughout most of the human history a large proportion of people have been illiterate. This has been to the disadvantage of such people. Mulenga (2008:55) indicates that “In the feudal society, for example, the ability to read and write was of value only to the clergy and aristocracy and the issue of illiteracy was not seen as a big problem then until after the invention of printing in the 15th Century”.
In Zambia, the problem of illiteracy dates back to the colonial era where colonial masters relegated local and traditional education to the fringes, while promoting Western education. Colonial masters denied the indigenous people universal education creating educated and illiterate people in a society that hitherto knew no such trends. This scenario did not take long to give birth to high illiteracy rates among men and women especially people in rural areas of Zambia. This situation led to over 2, 300, 000 people out of a population of 3, 400, 000 black Zambian not to have been to school a year before independence (Nyirenda, 1969 and Mwanakatwe, 1969). The majority of such people were women especially in rural areas who could not walk long distances to schools that were few and far apart.
This state of affairs slowly began to cause anxiety as it came to boomerang against the colonial government in many aspects such as tax compliance and shortage of human resource for the expanding civil service and skilled manpower for the developing industries, commercial activities and other service providers. As the situation worsened, pressure was put on the colonial administration by the political activists of the time. Slowly and with reluctance, few schools were established to offer formal education to the black people of Northern Rhodesia. Since such schools were too few to make a
significant impact in a society that was highly illiterate, most remote areas had no schools even for many years making such means of education inadequate. As a result, other than institutional education, the colonial administration saw the need of establishing other avenues, such as the mass media, to take education to the masses. This was done, first, by experiments in the 1950s and widespread reaching classrooms by radio and television on the basis of the United Nation Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Report on Education in Northern Rhodesia of 1963 recommendations.
However, with the declining economy between the 1980s and 1990s, radio lessons declined even when the attrition rate in education among primary and secondary pupils was extremely sky-rocketing. During this period, the Ministry of Education (MOE) also drastically reduced funding education in general and particularly the funding to the Education Broadcasting Services (EBS) section claiming that “the service had become too expensive to manage” (MOE, 1996, 81-82). This meant that some children of school going age could not enter school. Among those who did, large numbers of them dropped out adding to the already large army of illiterates and unschooled Zambians.
What should be capitalized on, here, is that most of the illiterate population exhibit an insatiable appetite and hunger for learning. What these people have desperately lacked has been a system of education which is designed to effectively take education out of the walls of institutions to where the need is great at an affordable cost. In fact, with such a problem in education, Coombs (1968) had recommended non-formal education as an alternative to formal schooling. This became one of the cornerstones of establishing Radio Chikuni in the Chikuni Parish of Monze District of Zambia. The radio station was founded on...
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