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Mixed reactions to quota system abolishment

SUSUWELE BANDA—The context has changed

There are mixed reactions to the government’s decision to abolish quota system of selecting learners into tertiary institutions and reintroduction of Junior Certificate of Education (JCE) examination with effect from 2020/2021 school calendar year.

Minister of Education, Science and Technology, William Susuwele Banda and Minister of Information, Civic Education and Communications Technology, Mark Botomani, announced the latest developments in Lilongwe Thursday.

“Since quota was introduced in 1987, the context has changed as we now have reasonable spaces. Quota System of selecting students into various colleges and universities is abolished forthwith.

However, the government will continue with its affirmative action towards girls and students with disabilities, including albinos,” Susuwele Banda said.

He said students and parents have been complaining that the government was leaving out best performing students; hence, its decision to consider students based on their performance.

Asked as to why the government had abolished quota system and yet the same government has all along said selection was not based on quota systems, the Minister said delinking of University of Malawi into three independent will allow universities to accommodate more students.

Susuwele Banda also brushed aside talk that the abolition of quota system was meant to earn political support from the Northern Region, which has been against the system. On JCE, he said the government observed that most people had shown discontent when JCE examinations were abolished.

But Civil Society Education Coalition Executive Director, Benedicto Kondowe, said the government should have listened to people’s voice of reason way back on the issue of quota system.

He, said from the word go, his organisation told the government that continuous assessment as a replacement for JCE was a total non-starter in the face of high student versus teacher ratio and even more challenging considering the long distance that students in community day secondary schools (CDSS) travel.

While hailing the reinstatement of JCE, education expert Limbani Nsapato said it was important to note that reasons that led to the reinstatement of the Quota System still exist.

“You will note that CDSS are very much under resourced and you find that if you use merit only it becomes a disadvantage because students from those schools will not be able to compete with those from well resources institutions,” Nsapato said.

Another educationist Steve Sharra said the government must ensure that the policy changes are evidence based in terms of numbers, stressing that what ought to be done is to level the system that every child in Malawi has equal opportunity to access education.

“When quota came in the 1980s, it came as a political policy. The idea was to punish a particular group of people because they were seen to be dominating university selection. So, the government was trying to balance things, but it was quite controversial.

“It will, therefore, be important to see if there will be secondary schools that will fail to send any student to university based on performance whilst other schools tend to dominate. If that happens, there will probably be another outcry,” Sharra said.

He has since advised the government to devise a mechanism of issuing testimonials for students who missed out on JCE when it was stopped, so that those that did not make it to form four level do not appear as mere standard eight dropouts.

Meanwhile, general secretary for Livingstonia Synod of the Church of Central Africa Presbytery, Reverend Levi Nyondo, who has in recent years led the nation in opposing quota system, said they will continue monitoring the situation to ensure that politics do not come into play with the new policy.

As part of the public reforms policy, the government abolished JCE in 2015 and stopped printing Primary School Leaving Certificates citing exorbitant production costs.

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