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Inadequate government bursary leaves learners in the cold

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Thousands of needy learners in the country’s secondary schools are being left out in the cold as government’s bursary scheme is unable to cater for all of them.

The situation has seen an increasing number of students turning to Members of Parliament and alumni associations of their respective schools for help with school fees and other requirements.

As of December 2015, District Social Welfare Offices (DSWOs) for Blantyre, Mulanje, Thyolo, Mangochi, Chiradzulu, Balaka, Dedza, Dowa, Chikwawa, Neno Mzimba, Nkhata Bay, Salima and Karonga recorded a total of 3,871 students that were in need of education support.

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At Chiradzulu Secondary School, for example, of the 296 students that needed support, only 93 students made it to the government bursary list.

Chipiliro Phambala, one of the 25 needy students whose school fees is being paid for by the Chiradzulu Secondary School alumni, said paying school fees has been a hustle for his parents who depend on subsistence farming.

“My parents have had to sell their harvest to pay school fees and this time around they literally have nothing due to the dry spells experienced,” said Phambala who is in form four.

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Head teacher of the school, Allen Mjima, said the situation is leading to increasing number of students being absent from classes as they go out in search of school fees.

At Blantyre Secondary School (BSS), the school’s alumni association is supporting 10 students but there is another 45 who are in need of assistance.

Coordinator for the Blantyre Secondary School Alumni Association Liveson Tumburu said most of the needy students are orphans.

“The bursary system needs to be revisited and find solutions that will accord needy students a chance to benefit,” said Tumburu.

Oxfam Malawi Country Director, John Makina, blamed the deep inequalities in the country on the difficulties of access to education.

Oxfam’s State of Inequality in Malawi report based on surveys carried out in 2004/5 and 2010/11 shows that close to 1.5 millionmore people could get deep into poverty by 2020 if the education inequalities in the country are not addressed.

According to the report in 2015, almost half of the country’s population lived in poverty.

Ministry of Education spokesperson Manfred Ndovie admitted that there is a growing number of needy students who the government’s bursary cannot accommodate.

“Even the bursary at the moment does not satisfy the number of those in need. We have to admit that the coming in of the alumni is a relief to an extent considering that government cannot do everything on its own,” said Ndovi.

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