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Concerns over dwindling education standards

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By Feston Malekezo And Vyalema Kaluluma-Phiri:

HAIL FREE SECONDAY EDUCATION —Kholoni CDSS students

A total of 14,000 students in the country are recipients of the government bursary and out of this figure 5,100 are supported by United Nations Children Fund (Unicef). These are students whose parents struggle to find money to pay school fees and buy necessities for their siblings.

Lack of such necessities is a set-back to one’s performance in class. This explains why the bursaries were introduced.

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Then introduction of free secondary education, premised in line with Sustainable Development Goal Number 4 that advocates for free and accessible quality education, has come with a heated debate on merits and demerits of the decision.

For people like Matias Pius and Josiah Mangungu, free secondary education will cultivate a spirit of laziness on the part of students. Pius and Mangungu are Chairpersons of Parents and Teachers Association (PTA) in separate schools. The former leads PTA for Kholoni Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) in Mchinji District while the latter is serving at Kapiri CDSS in Dedza District.

“I am against the idea of making secondary education free because this is going to tamper with education standards in the country. Students will become unruly and teachers will not be respected anymore.

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“As times goes, more students will start shunning public secondary schools for private schools because that will be where quality education will be offered,” Mangungu states.

Pius concurs with Mangungu, saying it will also be difficult for parents and guardians to monitor the progress of their children considering that they will not be spending any penny.

“Fees payment is a bond that makes parents and guardians monitor school performance of their children because they always want to see that their money is making a difference,” Pius says.

Still, some students believe free secondary education will help them easily achieve their goals.

“I am happy that secondary education is now free because every time I was chased from class to look for fees, it affected my performance. Not all students are lazy,” Judge Phiri, a Form Three learner at Kholoni CDSS, says.

MUTHENGI —We see this as an opportunity

Another student from Matundu CDSS, Kesina Kaponda, says most needy learners will have more time to study hard as compared to the past when they hard to think, time and again, about the source of their school fees.

“My parents are now relieved from the burden of looking for school fees. I will dedicate most of my time for studies to do well and proceed easily to college,” Kesina says.

Government, effective this January, has removed tuition fees, Textbook Revolving Fund (TRF) and General Purpose Fund (GPF) in all public secondary schools in the country.

Reports indicate that the United States of America instructed the Malawi government to abolish secondary school fees as a pre-condition for the funding of 200 secondary schools to be constructed in the country.

However, Education, Science and Technology Minister, Bright Msaka, recently denied the reports saying the government abolished the fees in order to facilitate equal access to secondary education.

“We believe by removing secondary school fees, we are creating a conducive environment for building the human capital that Malawi needs for the attainment of our national development aspirations,” Msaka told Parliament last December.

Kapiri CDSS head teacher in Traditional Authority Kachindamoto in Dedza District, Steven Mwale, thinks it will be difficult to cultivate a hard-working spirit among students.

“Secondary school education is very important in the country’s academic structure because it prepares a child to be a productive citizen in the future. It is only when you have paid something that you work hard.

“I fear that the performance of students in secondary schools will go down, so too the school’s operations because the money collected as fees was being used for different activities. The government should provide funds to schools equivalent to the number of learners,” he said.

Currently, Kapiri just like any other CDSS, gets K403,500 quartely from the government.

According to Kholoni CDSS head teacher, Hopeson Chimwendo, the funding is not enough to carter for the school’s operations especially now that enrollment is expected to increase due to the government’s declaration of free secondary education.

“Although the fees abolishment will improve class attendance, it will still contribute to the going down of education standards,” Chimwendo says.

He then appealed to education stakeholders to convince parents and guardians to continue paying money towards development funds.

“I think we need to sit down with parents [and guardians] so that, at least, they should continue contributing towards school development fund and the PTA fund because we use these funds to pay wages for ground workers, watchmen and cleaners,” he says.

Unicef Malawi’s Chief of Education and Adolescent, Kimanzi Muthengi, says while he understands the fears that are there, but there are more positives than negatives.

Muthengi says, for example, more needy children will be supported through bursaries in order for them to attain secondary education.

“The total pocket for the vulnerable young people in secondary school that receive bursaries has been 14,000 boys and girls. Boarding fees have not been scrapped off. There are costs owned by the school and other costs owned by the parents, so we see this as an opportunity and a huge contribution to supporting more needy children,” Muthengi says.

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