Educator KING KAPITO responds to matters that have been raised in a previous article on the quota systems.
Ephraim Nyondo wrote passionately in the Weekend Nation of Saturday, April 16, 2016 that the so-called equitable method of selecting students to various public universities—the quota system—increases inequalities.
Using a case of two young people—both secondary school students from the same district but have different projected cumulative points aggregate emanating from other variables like the secondary schools and social economic status—Nyondo makes a case that the quota system disadvantages the less privileged who cannot afford decent education as their opportunities are bottled up; they will have to compete for their quota with their fellow natives.
The assumption is that where there is stiff competition, those who don’t have quality aggregate points, whatever the factors, won’t have a chance of life changing opportunity such as attaining higher education.
Nyondo makes his reader to conclude that the question of inequality in access to education—whether it has ever been a subject in Malawi education discourse prior to adoption QS debate or not—would not have taken the turn he believes it has.
When the system was being introduced a few years ago, government was on the defensive to justify the practice that was seen as discriminating by some sectors of our society. The easiest argument made then was that it was in line with the Education Sector Implementation Plan 2 (ESIP) which will run up to 2017.
ESIP 2 prioritises three main objectives, namely: increasing access to education, improving quality of education and strengthening education governance. The quota system was one of the strategies to achieve the first goal of increasing access to education. The quota system strategy is currently in use for purposes of placement of eligible students in various education sub-sectors like secondary, teacher and tertiary education.
With ever growing demand for education as a result of exponential population growth, equitable access to education appears to be government’s priority. It seems to me that over the years the government has been slow in responding to demand thereby creating the kind of panic that we started witnessing when the first generations of the free primary education policy reached the secondary sub-sector.
At various points, government has shown commitment to this goal by engaging various short term strategies like adoption of the quota system to long term strategies like increasing infrastructure and human resources, and engaging the private sector under public private partnerships (PPP).
Currently, rough estimations will indicate that our secondary and public tertiary education sub-sectors can only absorb around 30 percent of the eligible young citizens and this should be an issue of concern to any responsible citizen. That is why the quota system, in my opinion, was a sad response to a problem that is getting out of hand and should not necessarily be seen as worsening inequalities as such, but rather the government should align the strategy to address the question of social economic class which may not be addressed adequately.
Otherwise its adoption was a first step in the right direction; we, at least, finally started having conversations about general inequalities that exist in this nation.
The quota system has been used for sometime now and we hope to read researches on its effectiveness in increasing equitable access to education very soon. What informs this conversation is the fear that the government is out to get some sections of the society. As such, it has been very hard for some to see the merits of this intervention. Perhaps it is the manner in which the intervention was adopted.
As much as it is undeniable that privilege and prestige ooze from our social fountains, it may not necessarily be true that privilege and prestige takes the trajectory of districtisation of this country. On the contrary, I opine that privilege and prestige inform our social backgrounds and that is the area of improvement in making the quota system even more effective. In Malawi, one’s social class can be a surest way of getting access to scarce resources.
Rather than focusing on districts of origin of prospective students as a criterion in frameworking quota for public universities, the government should consider starting profiling university graduates and current students in order to determine the most legitimate population to benefit from this positive discrimination. I propose that priority should be given to young people who are the first generation in their families to go to university in this country. This may be hard to implement as most of us cheat wherever stakes are high but with proper documentation like birth certificates and identification system that is yet to be implemented under national registration programme, this will be achievable.
As I pointed out, the quota system is a temporary measure to ensure that there is equitable access to education by Malawians and it should not be seen as a punishment. We expect that it should go away with increased access to education through other strategies that are equally gaining traction. Rather than calling for its abandonment, the quota system needs to be properly strategised and be strengthened in order for it to serve its intended purpose of improving equitable access to education by all eligible Malawians. Of course, the quota system takes up a little percentage of the total enrolment of selected candidates into public universities for those who feel offended to be stressed with the fear that they are being targeted. That’s paranoia. Public institutions make available their information to the public. We can ask the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology on how the whole quota system thing works rather than entertain our fears. n