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Keeping helpless learners in school

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By Chimwemwe Mangazi

For most poor families in remote areas, the excitement that comes with a child passing the Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education examinations is quickly dampened by the thought of paying for their secondary education.

This was the experience for relatives of Olipa Aifeso and Dalani Paul, who were selected to Chimteka Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) in Mchinji in 2017.

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Olipa and Dalani say pursuing secondary education was difficult after their parents and relatives could not afford to pay the K12,500 every student is required to pay for their education at the institution.

Today, both learners are waiting for results of the Malawi School Certificate of Education examinations which they recently sat.

Chimteka CDSS Head teacher Clement Mponda says the support from the European Union (EU) funded project called ‘Improving Secondary School Education in Malawi (Isem)’ propped Olipa and Dalani through their secondary education.

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Under the project, the Foundation for Irrigation and Sustainable Development (Fisd) implemented a section called Sustainable Participatory Initiative for Secondary Education project (Spises).

The project, which was also run by the Ministry of Education, was aimed at building the capacity of 12 CDSSs and their respective communities to raise income for sustainable support of girls and other vulnerable children in schools with school fees and bursaries.

“The project developed solar powered irrigated gardens in which the schools grow cash crops. Income from the sale of the cash crops is used to pay school fees and meet other needs of girls and other vulnerable children in the CDSSs.

“At Chimteka CDSS, we have been growing horticultural crops and cereals in the irrigated school garden since 2018 and we have been able to pay school fees for all the beneficiaries of our bursary scheme,” Mponda says.

He further states that at the beginning of the project, 20 learners returned to school, sat their examinations and exited the project.

Still, some dropped out were chucked out of the list.

Mponda says apart from Olipa and Dalani, there are two other learners that are still being supported by the initiative.

“There was a committee that was selected, consisting of members of the community, and our chief gave us 1.7 acres of land. The communities took responsibility of managing the fields and the school provided security until the crops were ready for the market.

“We were able to raise K200,000 from the sale of rice and another K200,000 from the sale of beans. From the irrigation system, we were able to produce twice a year but we are moving to producing three times a year, which means we will be able to keep more girls in school and tuition fees will no longer be a problem,” Mponda adds.

Having realised more income from the school garden than the bursary scheme required in the 2021 academic calendar, the school management resorted to using part of the surplus to introduce livestock production.

Fisd Coordinator for the Spises project Gomezgani Shaba says the irrigation infrastructure erected at the school could run for more than 10 years, giving the community assurance of continued financial support towards their bursary programme.

“The system can irrigate 2.5 acres according to water availability where it was mounted. This is one of the best irrigation technologies and its cost is about K20 million. This has also proven to be a sustainable way of bursaries because even after the project the communities and the school are able to support vulnerable girls and keep them in school,” Shaba says.

Executive Director of the Civil Society Education Coalition Benedicto Kondowe lauded the school and the community for the initiative, saying the innovation must be promoted nationwide.

“If we continue to rely on government and development partners for support, other learners will be left out. Therefore, communities must rise to make sure that no single child drops out of school,” Kondowe said.

According to United Nations Population Fund, only about 25 percent of girls in the country complete primary school with nearly 60 percent dropping out for a variety of reasons related to poverty, lack of motivation and poor sanitary facilities.

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