By Witness Banda:
When the Malawi National Examinations Board (Maneb) released results of Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education (PSLCE) examinations on October 2 2022, focus quickly turned to those that performed wonders in the examinations.
And, like in many human dealings, nobody spared a thought for special needs candidates that sat the examination.
Instead, people, notably members of Parliament, rushed to shower gifts on those that had emerged as star performers.
A case in point is Zomba, where Zomba Central parliamentarian Bester Awali rewarded 14-year-old Miriam Kachala from Chiperoni Primary School in the district for her outstanding performance in the national examination.
Together with Joseph Magombo, Miriam emerged as overall performer.
Awali awarded the girl K100,000 so that it could cater for her school needs.
‘‘Her performance will motivate fellow girls in Zomba that everything is possible through hard work. I have encouraged her to keep up the good work so that she can attain her goals,’’ Awali indicated.
Kachala, who aspires to become a medical doctor and was selected to Blantyre Secondary School, urged fellow students to stay focused on school.
She said, for her to do well in the examination, she got inspired by those that are ahead of her, academic wise.
‘‘I have siblings who are currently studying at Mzuzu University and Malawi University of Business and Applied Sciences. These people always encouraged me to work hard in class,” she said.
No wonder, people like Zomba Urban District Education Manager Joe Magombo were on cloud nine with the development.
PSCLE results indicated that Kachala and Magombo scooped 448 out of 500 marks where 216,664 candidates out of 260,295 passed the examination, representing 83 percent pass rate.
The dust has now settled, more so because Junior Certificate of Education examinations have been released in-between.
However, issues related to PSLCE examinations have not been forgotten by others, especially those that care about special needs learners.
One of the stakeholders that have kept people with special needs in mind is the Ministry of Education, which has said it is impressed with the performance of learners with special needs this year.
The ministry indicates that learners with special needs have done better this year than last year.
According to statistics, out of the 1,676 special needs candidates who sat examinations in 2021, at least 1,160 candidates passed, representing 69.21 percent pass rate.
In 2022, the figure rose to 3,668 candidates, with 2,672 candidates passing the examination, representing a 72.58 percent pass rate.
In other words, compared to last year, this year’s rate represents 3.64 percent increase.
Deputy Director for Special Needs Education in the Ministry of Education, Lucy Magagula, told The Daily Times that the “good performance” was achieved through, among other strategies, quick identification of learners with special needs and proper assessment.
Magagula also said the combined efforts of Ministry of Education, stakeholders and parents helped the candidates shine in national examinations.
“We have seen notable responses and good approaches coming from the parents. Again, when it comes to issues to do with learners with special needs, school management committees have started regarding them [the learners] as people with human rights.
“Therefore, their welfare is a human rights issue. Special needs learners should be given the opportunity to access education services. We would also like to thank special needs teachers, who have been supportive of these learners in our respective schools,” Magagula said.
Federation of Disability Organisations in Malawi Executive Director Simon Munde concurred.
“Investments in special needs education are now bearing fruit.
“Basically, we urge the Ministry of Education to make sure that they institutionalise inclusive education; we should not just be observing aspects of inclusive education projects on inclusive education just in the cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe, Zomba and Mzuzu. We have to make sure that everywhere, where issues of education are being considered, the issue of inclusive education is part and parcel of that. In so doing, children with special needs will be going to school with confidence,” Munde said.
Civil Society Education Coalition Executive Director Benedicto Kondowe said inclusive education is the route to sustainable socio-economic development, in the sense that special needs learners that shine in national examinations are better placed to contribute to national development efforts.
Quality education advocate Lexon Ndalama concurred, saying special needs learners should be given all materials that will make them excel in education.
“The fact that they have done well in national examinations means we are making progressive steps.
“What is required is to make sure that government and civil society organisations are working together in promoting the interests of children with special needs. They should have resources such as assisting devices, well trained specialists teachers and adequate resource centres where these children are introduced before they join regular classrooms,” Ndalama said.
The government introduced inclusive education in 2007 to ensure that every child, including those with physical challenges, access education services without facing stigma at all levels in the society.