4 million desks deficit in schools


By Patience Lunda


At Chihame 2 Primary School in Nkhata Bay, there are 1,035 learners.



The school has 150 desks, 40 of them donated just in July this year by the Kawalazi Tea Estate Limited.



That means over 700 pupils sit on the floor when learning at the school.


Malawi has a crisis of desks.


Those 700 plus pupils at Chahame Primary School make up millions (of the close to 5.5 million learners in Malawi’s public primary and secondary school) who attend classes while sitting on the floor.


In a ministerial statement in Parliament in March this year, Minister of Education Agness NyaLonje told the house that the ministry has 457,762 desks in primary schools and 191,762 desks in secondary schools.


She said this leaves Malawi with a deficit of 4.4 million desks which she said would cost government an estimated K176 billion at a unit cost of K40,000 per desk.


NyaLonje said desks are an integral part of a conducive teaching and learning environment.


“They help learners with good posture and make them comfortable thereby facilitating concentration of learners on their work,” she said.


She said her ministry had the desire to provide adequate desks especially in lower classes to help little children acquire reading, writing, computing and drawing skills.


“Denying them desks affects the acquisition and development of these foundation skills in learners.


Sadly, in the system we have an acute shortage of desks,” she said.


Tatiana Chitheka, a Standard Eight learner at Chihame, said the shortage of desks at the school makes it hard for girls in her class to fully participate during lessons.


She said they feel inconvenienced to answer questions in class since they are required to stand which she said becomes hard especially when they are menstruating.


In her statement in March, NyaLonje promised that the ministry would work on alleviating the problem.

We followed up that promise with Ministry of Education Public Relations Officer, Chikondi Chimala who told The Sunday Times that the ministry has funds that are supporting the provision of teaching and learning materials such as desks.


He said the ministry is also working with other partners such as Unicef to bridge the existing gap.

According to Chimala, the ministry gives desks to schools which are in dire need and that includes schools in rural areas.


“A lot is being done to ensure that schools have desks and we are working with councils as well as other partners to ensure that desks are provided because we are aware that the gap is huge in most schools,” Chimala said.


But Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec) Executive Director, Benedicto Kondowe, said government has so far failed its obligation to provide desks in schools. And it has no plausible reason for the failure, he said.


Kondowe said there is need for development of a proper strategy that should run for a number of years specifically looking at allocation of desks in schools after the national budget has been passed in parliament.

He also stressed on the need to promote caring of desks in schools because some schools are keeping hundreds of broken desks.


“Education is a constitutional right and it is the obligation of government to promote as well as fulfil what is required of it and that is the provision of teaching and learning materials in schools because failure to do so is negatively affecting learners’ performance as well as leading to school dropout since learners feel inconvenienced,” he said.


Education policy analyst Steve Sharra said while government has good reasons for the failure to provide desks in all schools such as inadequate funding and struggling economy, there is also need for the ministry to be prudent in managing funds.


“The Ministry of Education does not receive 100 percent funding from the Ministry of Finance hence they can’t manage to buy all the needed desks, hence the solution to this problem is that the ministry should.


“There is need for the ministry to receive more resources but they also be managing the resources well to fix the existing challenges,” he said.


In the 2022-23 budget, government allocated K462.2 billion to the entire education sector. The education sector allocation is the lion’s share of the total national budget pegged at K2.84 trillion.


The allocations included K78.9 billion for operations of public universities; K106.8 billion for operations of primary and secondary schools including teaching and learning materials; K12.0 billion for university student loans; and K3.7 billion for the Youth Internship Programme.

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