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Broken education in CDSS

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By Yohane Symon

Community Day Secondary Schools (CDSSs) in the country are suffering from serious structural challenges that leave them worse off in performance at the Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examination, The Sunday Times has established.

We surveyed a number of CDSSs in Mangochi, all of which exposed serious challenges that have a huge bearing on how candidates perform in national examinations.

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For instance, in the academic year 2017-2018, Mpondas CDSS had planned to send at least five students to public universities. Only one student made it. In the following year, the school had a similar ambition, only to fall short with one student.

Mpondas’ record of sending students to universities is ragged and inspires little hope to students whose only choice is the CDSS. Mdinde CDSS in Traditional Authority Katuli is even worse as it has not been able to send even a single student to university in the past 10 years.

Dire times in CDSSs

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The performance for the two CDSSs at MSCE reflects the picture in the country’s secondary school education which has hugely been affected by inadequate funding, lack of qualified teachers, inadequate teaching and learning materials and poor infrastructure just to mention but a few, both government and an education analyst have admitted.

The CDSSs we have visited have no laboratories, libraries and other facilities to help the teachers in discharging their duties.

“We do not have a proper structure for a library and a laboratory. We turned some classes into a library and a laboratory. However we have no books in the library and no proper equipment in the laboratory such that sometimes we have to use our own resources to source items elsewhere,” said Peter Bamusi, head teacher for Mpondas CDSS.

Bamusi also lamented lack of teaching materials and other support materials such as computers.

“The whole school has no single computer. As such we cannot teach computer here. We believe that if we had proper equipment we would improve MSCE results,” he said.

While there are qualified teachers at Mpondas, some CDSSs such as Koche, Mdinde and Nansengwa has teachers that teach subjects in which they did not specialise during training.

Education for inequalities

Yet, there are signs that Malawi’s education promotes inequalities in terms of education achievement. While CDSSs face these serious problems, some national secondary schools are basking is glory of resources. Yet students from both schools sit for the same examinations.

For instance, despite having poor MSCE result in 2020, Zomba Catholic Secondary School has managed to register a 98 percent pass rate with the highest scoring seven points this year.

Head teacher for the school Joseph Nsambo said apart from instilling discipline among learners, having qualified teachers (degree level) and relevant teaching materials has been their key factor.

He revealed that the school has separate laboratories for subjects such as Geography, Chemistry, Biology, Physical Science and Agriculture.

“Our classes are composed of 40 learners only. This gives teachers ample time to respond to individual needs of our learners. It is our policy that a teacher should spend a lot of time with a learner who has some problems to make sure that all learners are moving together,” said Nsambo.

Workload in CDSSs

On the contrary, we established that the teacher to learner ratio in most CDSSs especially those located in rural areas is so high that a single teacher is forced to attend to over 120 pupils in a single day.

“For the past 10 years I have been teaching in all forms without resting. I cover both my specialised subjects and other subjects for which we don’t have teachers at our school. In some cases we make arrangements to bring in some specialised teachers to help in sciences. But this means that students have to contribute money for the incoming teacher’s upkeep,” said one of the teachers at Majuni CDSS in Mangochi.

Half-baked primary school learners

Education analyst Limbani Nsapato said Malawi’s secondary education is in crisis because of lack of proper planning and investment in the sector. He faulted the idea of introducing free primary school education without putting in place relevant structures that are supposed to support the system to produce desired results.

“For 10 years, our children in school were being taught by teachers who had no teaching qualification. The government employed teachers under the poverty alleviation initiative to apparently fill the gap. But they could not help but produce half-baked learners to transit to secondary schools,” he said.

Nsapato said in addition to that, the introduction of CDSS is also a major problem for the country’s education crisis.

“Most of the students who are failing MSCE examinations are coming from CDSSs. This is because most of the CDSSs are being taught by unqualified teachers. The CDSSs do not have required teaching and learning facilities,” he said.

Some international protocols on education which Malawi is party to urge countries to commit about 20 percent of their national budget towards the education sector.

However, Malawi has been falling short on this requirement with an average of five percent in the past five or so years.

Lack of leadership

Nsapato also bemoaned lack of strong leadership within the Ministry of Education.

He said the ministry’s leadership has shown that it is lacking ideas to solve the challenges that have affected the sector for a long time. Minister of Education Agnes Nyalonje is well familiar with the challenges which beset her ministry. She said the ministry is being provided with inadequate resources which cannot change some of the prevailing problems.

“At secondary school, most teachers are not allocated the right subject mix. In addition to that, over 4000 teachers do not have the right qualification to teach at secondary school level. The biggest shortages are in Sciences, Mathematics, ICT and languages,” said Nyalonje.

She said government is working to counter these challenges.

“My ministry is working hard to address these issues. The education sector will require a massive capital injection over an extended period of time,” she said.

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