Learners study under candlelight for 11yrs
For three years, Dorothy Gomani has been straining her eyes to study in candle light every night on her hostel bed.
She says this seems to be a normal life to the 150 girls at the boarding facility for the school; where more than three students gather around one candle light to study every night.
This would have been a usual story if it happened at a self-boarding or Gomani’s home village in Zomba but this is happening within the premises of her school, Namalomba Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) situated in Traditional Authority Kalembo in Balaka.
This group of students is not the first, neither is it known to be the last.
Students who have been learning at Namalomba CDSS since it was opened
in 2004 have studied using candles or torches until they sit for their Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations.
The school was built by Jica, which also installed solar panels mainly for lighting.
“We have solar power but it’s very unreliable. We only have power for an hour and it goes off on its own. At times it doesn’t switch on even after we attempt to switch it on several times,” laments Gomani a form three student at the school.
She further says most of the times students share a candle to study due to inadequate money to buy candles.
Sharon Sambani also a form three student at the same school says she is aware that candle or torch light is hazardous to her eyes but she has no choice.
“I don’t have a choice but to use either a candle or a small torch for reading. I’m just hopeful that government will consider us very soon,” says Sambani, an aspiring nurse.
Headmaster of the school, Alfred Magumbala, says the electricity problem at the school is now getting out of hand since the solar power is becoming increasingly unreliable.
“I’m afraid we are breeding future leaders with sight problems and government will spend more money in treating their sight than it would spend on bringing electricity here,” he notes.
According to Magumbala, the school needs at least K9 million to have electricity, a thing he says the school and Parents Teacher Association (PTA) cannot afford.
“After noting that it’s taking long for the ministry to assist us, we made a separate application for electricity at Escom and we were told that we need not less than K9 million to have electricity here,” he says.
Magumbala adds that the school has 359 students, 150 of them are girls who are in boarding within the school premises.
He reveals that last year, the school achieved 100 per cent Junior Certificate Examination (JCE) pass rate and had 46 per cent MSCE pass rate.
Parliamentarian for Balaka Central East, Yaumi Mpaweni says the school has been asking government for electricity for many years but nothing has changed.
“As parliamentarian for the area, I will make sure I push for this issue because our children are suffering,” he told The Daily Times.
Executive Director for Civil Society Education Coalition, Benedicto Kondowe says it is unfortunate that government has not paid attention to this problem for over 10 years.
“This is unacceptable. The situation is demotivating and not empowering. We may end up losing these girls through drop outs,” he says.
Kondowe also says the girls are likely to perform badly in their MSCE examinations since a good environment for preparation is highly compromised.
“A candle isn’t ideal for studying, worse so if it’s shared among three or four people. The girl students are preparing in a very stressful setting which would contribute to poor performance during examinations,” he observes.
Kondowe urges government to do something about this situation since it is very unlikely that the school can raise K9 million to have electricity at the school.
Education policy analyst Roy Hauya says even though this is not an isolated case, this is an unfortunate situation in the modern world.
“The situation is worse for these girls because the darkness may expose them to sexual harassment,” he said.
Hauya also questions why Escom which is a parastatal is failing to provide electricity to a public institution yet it is a government body.
“It’s very unfortunate that this parastatal seems to put money first at the expense of a fellow public institution. I can’t entirely blame the Ministry of Education but Escom in a way for not having an interest,” he stresses.
Hauya adds: “This is where we get things wrong. Escom is owned by everybody and it’s not there to make money but serve the public like students of Namalomba. It is also supposed to support the ministry.”
Ministry of Education, Science and Technology spokesperson, Manfred Ndovi says the ministry is not aware of this situation.
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