Universal access to quality education is one of the most important concepts in development. It is highlighted in several frameworks including the Sustainable Development Goals. But as SAMUEL KALIMIRA highlights in this FRIDAY SHAKER, many people especially in rural areas are not enjoying this right.
Patricia Mughogho, 13, has never seen a nurse, a soldier or a police officer since she was born. Her only role model in the area is a primary school teacher.
“When I finish school I want to be a teacher,” Mughogho said.
However, her dream to become a teacher is in limbo and she knows why.
“Our school does not have enough teachers. We don’t have textbooks. To make matters worse, the school has only one class block with two classrooms which are being used by our seniors.
“Just because we do not have enough teachers, we are just playing instead of learning,” Mughogho said.
She is in Standard Six at Muchina Full Primary School in Chitipa South Constituency. The school has an enrolment of 266 and it was established in 1982. It has only one school block which has two classes that accommodates Standard Seven and Standard Eight learners.
Learners for other classes learn in grass-thatched structures while others learn under trees.
For the past four years, none of the learners was selected to a government secondary school or a Community Day Secondary School.
To make matters worse, the school has never produced a graduate since its establishment.
Mughogho’s teacher since standard six, Stainfield Nyirongo says he bleeds inside when he imagines that the future of his learners is blurred apparently because the challenges they face are just too much.
“We teach them but we still feel we are failing to provide quality education because the learning and teaching environment is not conducive. Apart from inadequate classrooms, we also have few teaching and learning materials,” Nyirongo said.
In most cases, Standards One to Six learners would rather stay at home than go to school to learn in the rain or under scorching heat.
Sometimes, they would choose not going to school because they will not find a teacher there.
Head teacher for the school Kondwani Denis Simwaka said the school has only four teachers, including him, and that it is the reason why teachers cannot manage teaching all classes at once.
Simwaka said when the Division Education Manager deploys teachers at the school, the teachers do not turn up because the school does not have teachers’ houses.
He added that some teachers turn down their transfer to the school which is in remote and a hard to reach area due to a poor road network.
Simwaka further disclosed that two teachers in 2019 dumped the school apparently because they did not find it conductive.
“Our challenges are many. We have inadequate school blocks, teachers, houses, learning materials and several challenges. In short, there is no school here because the basic needs for the school to operate properly are almost there,” Simwaka said.
Senior Group Village Head Muthyengo said his subjects feel abandoned by the government arguing they have been requesting for the construction of school blocks and teachers’ houses but to no avail.
The chief said they molded bricks, ferried quarry stones and sand as a starting point for the government and others stakeholders to help them in construction projects.
“We feel pity to see our children being denied access to quality education. That is the reason we started collecting some construction materials so that we can build some structures. We have already constructed some teachers’ houses but we would love if we could be supported with other materials to complete the houses,” the chief said.
Muchina Primary School is just an example of many schools in the border district of Chitipa that have serious challenges that are compromising governments’ dream of providing access to quality education to everyone.
But Member of Parliament for the area Werani Chilenga said he is aware of the problem but said the communities in the area chose water as their first priority which he managed to provide.
“Muchina is where I come from and I am aware of the challenge. We are going to work out soon once we get the Constituency Development Fund,” Chilenga said.
But Traditional Authority (T/A) Nthalire maintained that his area is one of the most neglected in Chitipa District.
T/A Nthalire said challenges affecting education and other sectors like health and agriculture are due to poor road network.
“From here to Chitipa Boma is 120 kilometres and the condition of the road is too bad. During the rainy season, vehicles like ambulances get stuck in the mud. Government officers do not want to work here because they feel it is a very remote area,” the local ruler said.
But Director of Basic Education in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Steve Mafuna said he is aware of infrastructure challenges in many schools in the country but said the ministry is working tirelessly to address the problem.
Mafuta added that the magnitude of the challenge is suppressing efforts which the government is undertaking in constructing school blocks and deploying teachers in ‘neglected’ schools.
“The problem is that the fertility rate has increased in the country; the more we construct schools, the more the number of children that are going to school increases. However, we are working tirelessly to ensure that every child in the country has access to quality education,” Mafuta said.
Section 25 of Malawi Constitution stipulates that ‘all persons are entitled to education’ but this is not the reality to many children in Chitipa District.
According to the Malawi Voluntary National Review Report on Sustainable Development Goals released in June his year, shortage of teachers is still high in many schools especially those in rural areas.
Meanwhile, the Church and Society Programme of Livingstonia Synod of CCAP feels a lot should be done to improve education standards in rural areas like Nthalire.
Project Officer Paul Mvula said ignoring the education sector is molding a country that will not have responsible citizens.
“We just need to do more in infrastructure development. By doing so, we are going to create a room for quality access to education, health and other sectors,” Mvula said.
The million question dollar which has not been answered is that if the children are not continuing with education, what are they doing in society? What kind of citizens is the country molding for the future?