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Born in 1926 but still in infancy: The case of Chituche School

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BY PETER CHIPANGA

A CONTRIBUTOR:

LIVING IN THE PAST —A grass-thatched classroom at Chituche

If the status of Chituche Junior Primary School could be a yardstick, then the old adage, that ‘being born centuries ago does not necessary mean knowing a hyena’ stands tall.

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This is a school established way back in 1926 thanks to the Church of Central Africa Presbytery (CCAP) that saw the need to have a learning institution in Group Village Head Liwonde, Traditional Authority Nyambi in Machinga District.

But with only eight years to earn a centenary celebration, the school, which is under Chikweo Education Zone, has very little, if any to show off.

Otherwise, it could be the tireless working spirit the four teachers the school boasts of in managing 624 pupils that can be something to beat a drum for.

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However, news that the 92-year-old school, which officials confirm registers a high school dropout rate and only goes up to Standard Six, falls short of being a school in modern Malawi.

If anything, in the absence of being taken as museum, it speaks volumes of the area’s social economic status and also shows how un-fair the government along with its agencies or stakeholders in the education sector.

A parent of one of the pupils at the school who did not want to be identified lamented the school is shunned in many aspects that include teaching staff.

“The school has only four teachers as most shun it due to poor accessibility of the area, lack of electricity and non-existent cellphone network.

“The network available is from Mozambique and you can imagine what a sorry state it is, yet we are five decades independent backed by two decades of being in a democratic state,” said the disgruntled parent.

To make matters worse, a senior primary school area is said to be no less than six kilometres away from the school and with poor terrain.

But Chituche has a sad and terrifying situation as there is only one permanent block housing two classrooms with the rest being temporary structures comprising a grass-thatched roof supported by poles exactly the way burley tobacco barns look.

The headteacher’s office is all made out of grass, putting him at risk to fire and effects of extreme cold weather the area is exposed to.

However, not all is lost as some entities like the Registered Trustees of Friends of Machinga recently visited the school with some quick interventions.

“We brought exercise books and pencils to the learners to make sure they do not drop out of school because of lack of writing books and pencils,” said the trustees head, Wisdom Limbe.

Limbe explained that they did this in line with their vision to have a district where people from rural areas are empowered to, among others, attain quality education.

“As Friends of Machinga, we are also into the promotion of access to health facilities and pursuing economic activities for people living in rural areas in the district,” he said.

He said the grouping appreciates that there is need for concerted efforts to make sure that the area is not starved of essential services which force many pupils to drop out of school and enter into early marriages.

“We, therefore, made sure that we come up with the donation of books purchased at a discount from Nano Investments using contributions from members of the Trust.

“The pencils were donated by Mr. Gunde of Gunde’s Lodge at Liwonde while members also organised the trip and motivational talks to the pupils, teachers and the community,” Limbe said.

With an ego to see their children pursue education further, the local community moulded bricks in anticipation that government or some well-wishers would bail them out but, alas, the effort seem to have fallen on barren ground.

On the pathetic state of the school infrastructure, Limbe said Friends of Machinga plan to mobilise resources to help build extra school blocks.

“It is true that most pupils are learning under harsh conditions, as such we plan to come in by, among others, bringing awareness to the relevant authorities,” he said.

He added: “What is pleasing is that the local community has already provided burnt bricks and what is needed is cement, iron sheets, labour and other building materials.”

As one way of discouraging school dropout and early marriages, Ellen Nakanga, the group’s member gave a motivation speech during the visit encouraging the pupils not to get discouraged with their challenge.

She told them to face the challenges head -on by working hard in class so that they excel and become productive citizens who will also be beneficial to their respective home areas.

Group Village Head Liwonde, who spoke on behalf of village heads Manjolo, Mwanyumbu, Yuchi, Henesi, Nsonkho and Nkana at the function mentioned the tough times both pupils and teachers go through in the area.

However, he pledged continued support, one of which was to mobilise subjects to mould other bricks and provide sand to have a full primary school.

“We have a starting point with the burnt bricks available and it is our hope that others will play their respective roles to make sure we have real school structures here.

“The communities are eager to have a children and better teaching environment for the teachers, so let all who can come up with various donations, initiatives and assistance do so,” he said.

Chituche Junior Primary School Head Teacher, Bonwell Mtuta, thanked Friends of Machinga for extending the donation to the Adult Literacy class saying parents are also crucial to child development and a better vision of their children.

However, he lamented over the shortage of teachers and alarming school dropout rate as they are a threat to attaining better national education and social economic development.

He nevertheless thanked the church, the government, traditional leaders and other stakeholders for steps made in trying to improve education standards.

“And to the friends who have showered us with blessings of books and writing materials, we further urge you to continue assisting so that together we achieve the best,” he said.

Chikweo Primary Education Adviser, Rose Makina, encouraged people of the area to be part of the development agenda and thanked Friends of Machinga for the initiative and requested them not to abandon the spirit of assisting the school.

“On behalf of Machinga DEM’s [District Education Office] office, the DEM himself, Chikweo zone and Chituche School, I thank you for the assistance you provided to the learners, teachers and the community,” she said at the function.

She added: “I appreciate the material, spiritual and encouragement through role models’ pieces of advice that will help learners stay in school.”

She said people should not get worried that sometimes geographical conditions like that of Chituche contributes to neglect of some sort, saying just as the Friends of Machinga saw the need to help more.

“1926 is indeed a long time and the expectation is likely not what is on the ground. I hope something will happen to change the situation due to this visit, otherwise it is good to note that this is coming out of the love for Machinga,” she said.

Makina further observed that, in using the group to disseminate messages of hard work, perseverance and obedience, aiming high to achieve one’s goals is possible.

“We hope you will reach out many in other parts of Machinga so that it shouldn’t be Machinga getting high marks for dropout rate, high illiteracy levels, early marriages and other crimes or immoral behaviour,” she said.

Deputy Session Clerk for Chituche CCAP Congregation, Edward Bwanaisa, a retired teacher who spares some time to teach adult literacy classes, appealed for ownership of the school by the local community and decried the practice of sending unqualified teachers to the school.

Despite the hard times, the pupils were at least relieved to hear someone from the area Mercy Mleme, a commercial farmer and successful businessperson at Chikweo, encouraging them to take education seriously.

The group’s secretary, John Banda, encouraged parents who did not go to school to attend adult literacy classes and donated exercise books to motivate them.

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