By Kondwani Magombo:
Like the rest of the girls in her class, reaching Standard Eight was the most exciting experience for 15-year-old Hajira, a learner at Nansato Primary School under Chiponde Zone in Mangochi.
For a girl facing the realities of life that come with puberty, Hajira and the rest of the adolescent girls learning at the school had always faced one challenge.
Nansato Primary School had no desks since it opened its doors in 1992.
“Sitting on the floor in a class of boys and girls had always been tough for us, especially when standing up to attempt a question,” Hajira says.
But the situation is no longer the same; the school now has the first lot of 18 desks procured in 2018.
For the first time in about 27 years, learners in Standards Eight and Seven can now afford the comfort of desks.
The excitement among adolescent girls like Hajira in the two classes is too evident for any visitor to miss.
“The desks have made our learning very easy,” Hajira says, her face glowing with excitement.
“The interest to attend classes is high unlike when we had no desks and had to sit on the floor.”
Nansato Primary School is one of the eight schools in Chiponde Education Zone that are under Malawi Education Sector Improvement Project (Mesip), a four-year World Bank initiative that commenced in 2016 to support the sector.
According to a write-up sourced from the World Bank’s website on the intervention, Mesip is implemented in selected schools across the country under five components.
The first component focuses on improving promotion rates through addressing the inefficiencies of repetition and dropout in the primary education system, especially in Standards One to Four.
This is achieved through performance-based funding (PBF) and incentives, including how to retain girls in school.
It is the PBF amounting to K434,000 that Nansato Primary School received from Mesip that it used to procure the desks, Head teacher Redson Bwanali says.
“When we received the funding, we sat down with the school management committee and other committees to discuss what to do with the money,” Bwanali told a mid-term review team in March this year.
We agreed that we should procure desks for our learners in senior classes and we also made some benches for junior class learners,” he said.
The school also had a disbursement of K1,307,777 from Mesip which was used for the construction of a learning shelter to address the existing challenge of classroom space.
It has since stimulated learning and teaching at the school considering that the criterion for choosing which class should use the facility is dependent on its performance.
At the time of the review, Standard Four learners were the ones occupying the shelter owing to the star performance of the class teacher Mathews Scotch.
“Scotch was outstanding as reflected in his learners’ grades during the last school year,” Bwanali said.
The school has also achieved the second component of Mesip which aims at improving equity for the most disadvantaged, including girls.
This component focuses on improving retention of teenage girls, especially in Standards Six to Eight, by improving availability of sanitary facilities, an area identified as a constraint for girls.
“We have provided school uniforms to 19 vulnerable learners and we also buy cloths with which we use to make sanitary pads for adolescent girls,” Bwanali said.
“We are currently constructing a permanent changing room for the girls so that they should not miss classes when they are menstruating,” the head teacher added.
Of particular interest at Nansato is the enthusiasm that Mesip has generated in members of the community. They are now sensitising one another to send children to school.
The community, through mother support groups, also ensures that no girl child drops out of school in preference to marriage.
Cooperation between members of the community and teachers at the school in implementing Mesip interventions has already produced enviable results.
The school now has 1,026 learners comprising 523 girls and 513 boys, which according to Bwanali has contributed to a reduction in school dropout and absenteeism rates.
Most importantly, since the introduction of Mesip, the primary school is producing national secondary school material.
“Through Mesip interventions, which include remedial lessons and establishment of reading centres, we have managed, for the first time, to have two learners selected to Mangochi and Lisumbwi secondary schools respectively,” Bwanali said.
With such splendid performance, Nansato Primary School has made itself the pride of Chiponde Zone as attested by the Primary Education Adviser Gloria Khauke.
“We have 16 schools under Chiponde with eight benefitting from Mesip but Nansato is the focal point for all the schools under Mesip in the zone,” Khauke said.
“The school always shares information and success stories with other schools under Mesip in the zone.”
Nansato Primary School is also doing well in other Mesip activities following the formation of grievances, environmental and waste management committees.
The school established grievance boxes in every classroom for learners to post any complaints.
There is also one box for general issues placed in front of the head teacher’s office for everyone, including members of the community, to use.
Through the environmental committee, the school has managed to plant trees around the premises and wastes are well managed through use of rubbish pits.
However, the school’s key challenges as outlined by Bwanali and the school committee remain insufficient classroom blocks and teachers’ houses.
The 27-year-old school has 13 streams with only two classroom blocks, enough to accommodate four classes only.
With a few improvised shelters and the Mesip shelter around, other streams literally learn under trees.
However, there is hope for the rest of the learners to start learning in a safe and secure environment.
Minister of Education, Science and Technology Bright Msaka said recently in Lilongwe that government will construct 800 classrooms in primary schools across the country and procure 50,000 desks this year
“It is the agenda of President Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika that, in the shortest possible time, no child should learn outside,” Msaka said.
When all is said and done, the successes of Mesip at Nansato Primary School left the review team contented.
“Mesip has proved to be a game-changer and we are very impressed,” said Evance Kazembe, Mesip Component Manager and review team leader.
“There is increased level of participation by the community, teachers and learners and this has made the schools to become more vibrant than before,” he added.
Therefore, as Mesip goes into the next two years, the community, teachers and learners at Nansato Primary School look forward to more achievements.
But Hajira and the rest of the 25 learners in Standard eight look forward to one thing: to be selected to national secondary schools at the beginning of the 2019/20 academic year. — Mana