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28 years hunting for four classrooms

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There could be a million reasons for Kaphirintiwa Full Primary School to feel deserted, hopeless; even angry. Perhaps now, there is one encompassing reason for the school to scrap off the negative feelings.

Year after year, the school which was established 28 years ago, has had in its in-trays promises of modern school blocks to finally complete the deficit of four classrooms and teachers’ houses to act as a timely incentive.

Assurances of proper sanitary facilities, a covetously furnished library and just a modest staffroom for the sake of both teachers and their pupils have been made with careless ease.

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But, the school – situated in one of Mangochi’s remotest areas, in Traditional Authority (T/A) Nankumba – is a perfect example of how Malawi doesn’t seem to care about investing in the education of her young ones.

Two classes are conducted outside, under scantly branched and leafed trees while two others operate in wall-less grass-thatched structures which are not usable when it is raining or strong winds are blowing.

The pupils perch themselves on rough stones, listening quietly to their teachers, the singing of the birds from a nearby jungle and the rattling sounds of rodents’ rapid movements on dry, decaying leaves.

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Every moment a mild gust blows through the makeshift classrooms, the pupils cover their faces with their books or hands, wait for calm to return before finally losing interest in the lessons.

The scorching sun itself is no blessing at all. Its strong direct rays which, during science lessons, the pupils are told are dangerous for their skins, compel them to remind their teachers that they have one life which they need to jealously guard.

“During extreme weather conditions like when it is raining, we have no choice other than to bundle two classes in one room. That is just aimed at making sure they are safe because it is difficult to teach two different classes the same material,” says John Kadango, the school’s deputy head teacher.

In fact, even the nine teachers pool themselves in the midst of the pupils in the classrooms when it is raining outside. They don’t have a staffroom from where they should normally seek shelter and prepare for their lessons.

Kadango adds that out of the school’s nine teachers, seven commute from distant places such that when time comes for them to teach, there is minimal determination and vitality, subsequently rendering the lessons less appealing.

“In the end, it is the pupils that suffer,” Kadango stresses. “Their performance is affected and this is a big concern to us.”

Even Group Village Head (GVH) Binali, in whose jurisdiction Kaphirintiwa Primary School is, bemoans the condition of the school which he plainly charges is contributing to his area’s underdevelopment.

He takes a swipe at bogus benefactors whom he argues have been mobilising locals to put together bricks and sand for school blocks and teachers’ houses which never saw the light of the day.

“It is pathetic to see our children learning in shacks and under trees in this day and age. Education is always said to be the key that opens a nation’s mind and it should start with these young ones,” says Binali.

His concern is shared by many others in his village and beyond who send more than 800 of their children to Kaphirintiwa Primary School.

The number might seem exaggerated when one looks at the small hamlet that appears to be the sole provider of its children for the school. But the records are perfectly audited: the enrolment trend vacillates around the 800 mark.

“There are children from faraway villages who cover up to 15 kilometres to come to school. That’s why you don’t see a lot of houses near the school,” says Joseph Yohane, chairperson of the school’s management committee.

He adds: “It is painful to see a child cover a distance of 15 kilometres to access education only to be turned back because there is no classroom where he or she can learn. We wonder whether every child in Malawi has the same right to education.”

Perhaps, Yohane’s disgruntlement over inequalities in access to education will soon be eliminated.

Time could be around the corner for him and other parents who send their children to Kaphirintiwa Primary School to finally share the joy that is experienced in other parts of Malawi.

The Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec) is implementing a multi-million kwacha results-based financing project (RBF) in three Mangochi educational zones and Kaphirintiwa is one of the 30 targeted primary schools.

The two-year pilot project, which is expected to run up to August next year, is targeting 30, 270 children in the 30 primary schools and 15 preschools.

According to Csec and the project’s financiers, Cordaid, at least K600 million is expected to be spent in the first year of the project which will see the construction of school blocks at the 30 primary schools and 15 full preschools.

The same amount is expected to be spent during the second year of the project.

This should provide a beacon light of hope to thousands of locals who look up to Kaphirintiwa Primary School for the development of its surrounding homesteads.

“At least, we now have the ultimate confidence that we will have the school blocks which have been promised many times before but nothing has happened. Already, we have started seeing the fruits of the Csec [RBF] project,” said GVH Binali last week.

Csec was handing over cheques to the 30 primary schools with the one with the least pupil enrolment carting home K212, 000 while other schools got up to half a million kwacha.

All this, according to the education watchdog institution, is principally aimed at motivating schools that have been feeling neglected, conferring upon them a rare opportunity to realign their strategies, awarding them for helping themselves.

“The cheques that we have given out are part of the bonuses that we are giving to schools. Part of the project has a component where after every term, we are supposed to give bonuses to well-performing schools as well as teachers.

“But because the project has just commenced, we decided to use enrolment as a basis of determining how much a school should get,” said Csec executive director Benedicto Kondowe.

According to Kondowe, through the project, the 15 model preschools that will be constructed will have their facilitators being paid their monthly emoluments by Csec.

He said: “Within the RBF, what we are trying to test is whether providing incentives to schools will trigger good performance and the continued commitment of the teachers.

“If this pilot project is going to generate positive results, our intent is to extend the project to the next five years. Already, there are other development partners who would like to extend this project to other districts.”

Lloyd Simwaka, a Cordaid consultant in the RBF project, says by focussing on results, the programme actually looks at plans that can achieve the best quality.

“It is a transformative approach which aims at improving service delivery in education in this case. The targeted schools are motivated to jointly improve access, equity, quality and relevance of education,” he says.

And to buttress their argument that from now onwards, they will do everything possible to ensure their children have access to quality basic education, parents around Kaphirintiwa Primary School have already started heaping construction sand and bricks at the school.

They are confident that Csec’s sure-fire project will finally redeem them and bring a light of hope for their children.

And for this cause, so they say, they will sacrifice time and energy: two expensive resources which they feel they cheaply have at their fingertips.

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