Learning Science subjects at Engucwini Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) in Mzimba is hell such that students are forced to either drop the subjects as they get into the senior section or get transfer to another school.
If they stay around and still want to the sciences, then they have to brave walking for 48 km to Enukweni CDSS to access laboratory services.
And going over that distance is not easy. The topography in the area is not friendly either. The area is mountainous. Students have to cross Kasitu River and during rainy season when the river gets full, they seldom travel to Enukweni for science practical lessons.
While many students at the school have interest in Science subjects, circumstances force them to drop such subjects.
And as a result, their chances of going to the public universities are narrowed because one of the conditions for a student to be selected to the public university is to have passes in at least three science subjects.
Doreen Gondwe, a form four student who walks for 45 minutes to school, is one of those that have interest in science subjects but could not take them because of the circumstances at the school.
“I really wanted to study Physical Science and Home Economics but the distance to Enukweni is long,” says Gondwe who is currently sitting for this year’s Malawi School Certificate of Education examinations in eight subjects.
A new graduate teacher who just joined the teaching staff during the current school session Charity Faria confesses that teaching Home Economics without a lab is a non starter but she has no choice.
“Most of the stuff in Home Economics demands practical lessons but I teach without that. I have introduced the subject in the junior section and I am pretty aware and sure that the students will either leave the subject or go to another school when they go into the senior section where practical lessons will be demanded a lot,” worries Faria who also teaches Social Studies and Life Skills.
She adds: “Our students here are disadvantaged in terms of university selection which demands at least a pass in three science subjects.”
Currently, only six students risked the walking to Enukweni through the mountains to do practical science lessons.
While a few boys would manage to travel to Enukweni, not many girls dare the risk, hence reducing numbers of girls doing science subjects.
Lab problems aside, boarding issues also torment the students. All boys commute. A six-roomed structure that was constructed to be a girls’ hostel was abandoned after the female students were ambushed one night by a group of men. The structure has no electricity. That is another reason that stops girls from learning at that school.
A son from the area, David Nungu, has promised to bring electricity to the hostel.
“I will pay for the installation,” says Nungu who also paid fees for seven needy students. Electricity is not far. The classrooms and offices do have electricity.
Further, the school has no library despite having books which are gathering dust in the store room. Students have no proper place for studies.
Water is another hell. There is one borehole which serves the 200 students plus the entire community. The borehole frequently breaks down. When that happens, students are forced to walk for one kilometre to draw water. They experienced that scenario on graduation day for the form fours on June 14 2015.
The school’s head teacher Ellen Shaba admi ts that enrolment reduces as students go into the senior section because of the non-availability of the lab, library and hostels and the long distances. For example, the June enrolment was at 154 against the capacity of 200.
Shaba says the catchment area for the school is 20 km and that distance forces some girls to drop out of school. Some come from as far as Chirida which is 17 km away while others from Emanyaleni, 14 km away.
Behind the school are Chavitika and Mombwe hills and there are Katontholo and Ruhaweni rivers. When Katontholo is full, students fail to go to school.
And there is also Kasitu which hinders students going for practical science lessons at Enukweni CDSS when the river is full.
“So you can see, distance plus poverty forces students especially girls to drop out. If we had a working hostel we could lessen the dropping out. The current hostel has no security in the absence of electricity. Our girls were attacked at night in April this year and they abandoned it,” says Shaba.
Despite the hardships, pupils’ performance is not really bad. In 2014 out of 36 students, 22 passed MSCE and one was selected to Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar).
In 2013, out of 24 students, 18 passed and one student went to Catholic University. The school has eight teachers against the required number of 12.
Shaba says accommodation for teachers is another hell at the school. They had to turn an old school block into detached teachers’ houses. Faria is one teacher living in that block.
The other teachers’ houses have dirty walls, broken windows and with poor doors with compromise security.
Although the school is facing infrastructural development, it is surrounded by 130 group and village headmen who seem to do little about the problems. Secretary to the acting Inkosana of the area Mahunzanzima Mkandawire discloses that each village headman was directed to mould 15 000 bricks for the construction of the library and teachers’ houses.
“Come September as the next school session opens, you will find better structures here,” promises Mkandawire.
Constructed by Danish International Development Agency (Danida) in 1994, Engucwini CDSS surely deserves more and better infrastructure to motivate pupils to stay in school.
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