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Consultation: Missing point in free secondary education

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NDEVUZINAYI—This affected school development

Dorothy Mgawi, 16, wants to become a journalist but the 15 kilometres (km) she covers to and from school dazes her ambition.

She often gets to school late and exhausted, her ability to concentrate in class severely diminished.

The Form Two learner at Kapiri Community Day Secondary School (CDSS), Traditional Authority Kachindamoto, in Dedza District, is not alone.

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Chifundo Lackson, 17, cycles some 17km between her village, Kabulika, and Kapiri CDSS. The Form Three learner wants to become an Agriculture Extension Worker.

“I work hard in class because I want to achieve my dream of becoming an Agricultural Extension Worker to help promote farming in my area. I want to set a good example and motivate my siblings to aim higher because I am the first-born in a family of seven children,” Chifundo says.

While Dorothy and Chifundo are holding on to their aspirations, their parents’ struggle to educate the two is starkly clear. Both parents depend on piece-work to raise funds for fees, food and other necessities.

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At the time they were contemplating how to mobilise funds for their wards, the government announced on September 26, 2018 that, with immediate effect, it had abolished tuition fees in all public secondary schools in the country.

Textbook Revolving Fund (TRF) and General Purpose Fund (GPF) are expected to be abolished from tomorrow.

A letter signed by Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Justin Saidi, stated that the move was in line with Sustainable Development Goal IV that advocates free and accessible quality education.

“I am happy that government has abolished secondary school fees. This has relieved my parents who had to do piece-work to raise money for both my fees and food for the family,” Dorothy, a third-born in a family of five children, says.

In the initial setup, each student was paying K500 as tuition fees per term, K250 for TRF per year and K500 for GPF per term, bringing the total to K3,250 per student per year.

Although students like Dorothy and Chifundo think this is a sigh of relief, their parents will still have to grapple with other forms of fees meant for development activities at school.

Public schools developed what are called School Development Funds and Parents-Teacher Association Funds.

This means that as the students start their second term in the 2018/19 academic year this January, they are expected to pay K9,000 for the term. This translates to about K27,000 per year.

Head teacher at Matundu CDSS in Dedza, Lennox Ndevuzinayi, says, while he agrees that fees has been a burden to some students, the government should have devised proper means to enable public secondary schools in the country to run without collecting the fees.

He reckons that his school, which has an enrolment of 155 learners, had an average of 15 learners per year that struggled with fees payment but the school allowed the parents to settle the bill in instalments.

He said is has become hard to enlighten the communities that the fees that was abolished is the K3,250 paid yearly and not the other funds.

“We had challenges with fees collection for the first term. Parents thought the government has abolished all the fees, so we had to clarify the matter time and again while school was in progress. This affected the school’s development.

“We haven’t been able to sustain the purchase of materials like blooms, mops and other small items to keep the place clean and tidy,” he says.

CYCLES 17KM TO SCHOOL—Chifundo

Before the abolishment of the fees, Matundu CDSS used to collect about K1.4 million per term and, according to the head teacher, the money was being channelled towards procurement of teaching and learning materials and funding different projects at the school.

“Under the PTA fund, we collect K6,000 while SDF is pegged at K3,000 totalling K9,000 per student. These funds go a long way in the provision of quality education. For example, between 2014 and 2018, we constructed a two-classroom block to the tune of K6 million using SDF,” Ndevuzinayi states.

This could be the reason head teacher for Kholoni CDSS in Mchinji District, Hopeson Chimwendo, suggests that the government should have consulted widely before coming up with the decision to abolish secondary school fees.

Chimwendo fears that the government’s decision, reached without proper consultations with relevant stakeholders, is a recipe for chaos in education delivery.

“The government should have taken time to consult all education stakeholders including head teachers, chiefs and parents to consolidate their inputs on the matter.

“Parents are getting reports through the media that secondary school education is now free. Can they understand if we tell them about other developmental funds that they are supposed to contribute to?” Chimwendo queries.

Karonga Diocese Education Coordinator, Remi Kamanga, agrees with Chimwendo, saying the government had all the time to put necessary measures before abolishing secondary school fees.

“There are no guidelines that have been put in place to support the initiative. As we speak, schools in our area, have not received textbooks despite students paying for the same for three years now. The decision will have serious repercussions on our education delivery system,” Kamanga warns.

Kapiri CDSS Mother Group Chairperson, Village Head Nkupalume, advances a compelling concern.

She says, with the development funds, they were able to purchase sanitary materials for the girls who could not go to school during their menstruation.

“Through the development fund, a little percentage was given to us as a mother group to look into the welfare of girls. We could buy buckets that are used in girl’s toilets. We could also provide sanitary pads to adolescent girls in order to support them,” she explains.

On December 10, 2018, Members of Parliament also took the government to task over the fees abolition decision.

Education, Science and Technology Minister, Bright Msaka, defended the decision, saying the government has put in place measures to regulate amounts that learners contribute to development projects in their schools.

“However, those required to pay boarding fees will continue to do so; the same with examination fees,” Msaka said in Parliament.

Meanwhile, Unicef Malawi Chief of Education and Adolescent, Kimanzi Muthengi, while applauding the government for the decision, suggests that there should be the introduction of capitation to support the abolishment of TRF.

Muthengi says, as Unicef, they share with the government the challenges secondary education has been facing, especially that, of the total number of learners who complete primary education, only 34 percent progress to secondary education.

“While we applaud the government, we have also expressed concern that this may impact negatively on the quality of education because, when you do not charge for it (TRF), we will need to know where these funds will come from.

“If you do not have regular money to be used for running the schools, then we will need to introduce capitation-based support to the schools… We are hopeful that the government and ourselves and other partners should come in now to ensure that quality does not deteriorate,” Muthengi says.

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