Staff Development Institute (SDI) based in Mpemba, on the outskirts of Blantyre, was once a training hub of most civil service and private sector officers, offering courses not readily accessible to most employees. It remains relevant in secretarial, accounting, human resource management, law and administration areas. However, THOMAS KACHERE has established that gradually, SDI management has taken its foot off the gas pedal, leading to dwindling of education standards at the institution.
SDI, a government-funded training and research school, seems to be operating on autopilot. The situation at the institution does not befit one that prides itself as a “leading institution in the provision of first-class training, consultancy and research services.”
Some students at the school hardly pay fees and those that fail examination proceed to the next semester and next year of their course without writing their supplementary examinations.
Eventually, they graduate with a qualification that hardly reflects their performance in class and one that comes at less than the prescribed school fees.
Sadly, among those that graduate from the school are magistrates who are crucial to delivery of justice across the country.
So important is SDI that a few years ago, the government announced that only civil servants that had attended courses at the Mpemba facility would be considered for promotions and confirmations once hired in the civil service.
A circular of July 9 2016 addressed to all principal secretaries announced compulsory induction and orientation programmes for the civil service as part of the government reforms.
However, one student, who has paid school fees once at SDI and is now in his second year of study, revealed that management is indifferent to goings-on at the institution.
“We have had cases where some students have graduated as magistrates, yet they cannot write a simple essay. It would seem some members of the school’s management are creating the situation deliberately so that their relatives can pursue education here without paying school fees,” he said.
Another student, who opted for anonymity but has been at the school for over two years, confirmed glaring anomalies at the institution under the full watch of management.
For instance, he said, despite some learners failing to pass law course subjects such as Constitution, Administrative Law and Communication, they proceeded to other classes without sitting supplementary examinations.
“I think what is happening defeats the whole purpose of education. When will those that failed their tests re-take their supplementary examinations? What I know is that every university takes action on those who fail subjects by giving them a supplementary exam or compelling them to repeat the class. We have been questioning authorities on this but they have not been able to explain to us,” he said.
“We started learning in January 2019 and closed in June then re-opened in July. We proceeded to the second semester before receiving our results. However, the results came out in September 2019 while we were in the second semester.
Despite that some students failed subjects such as Constitution and Administrative Law and Communication; they proceeded to the next level without sitting for supplementary examinations.”
He also wondered when those that previously failed certain courses were going to re-take their supplementary examinations.
He said he does not understand the policies of the institution because by now, many students are yet to finish their first semester school fees and for the 2019 second semester, they have not paid anything despite being allowed to continue with their classes.
The source said since the onset of the second semester, he has not paid fees and no one pushes him.
A Human Resource Management student said his colleagues who failed the subject have not been given supplementary examinations.
He said during orientation after joining the institution, they were told by management that results are released three weeks before school re-opens, something which does not happen.
The Daily Times has established that the institution contravenes Malawi’s traditional tertiary education criteria built around examinations and test scores.
Sources said many students who enrolled at the institution in recent years have also partly honoured their tuition fees or paid nothing at all but still have full access to classes and other facilities at the school.
Our findings established that each student at the school is required to pay K330,000 per semester implying that with the school’s two semesters annually, each student is expected to pay K660,000 per academic year.
SDI offers courses such as certificate in Law, diploma in Land Management and Administration, Diploma in Human Resources Development, Legal Skills for Paralegals and diploma in accounting.
Due to weak enforcement of school fees payment structures, some students have ventured into various businesses outside campus, allegedly using money meant for fees.
Last year, there were reports that some lecturers were involved in ‘sex for grades’, an allegation the institution is yet to investigate.
However, SDI Director, Owen Mutegha, has dismissed such reports, saying there was a misunderstanding on the whole issue, claiming the institution gives out supplementary examinations to those who failed.
On the issue of laxity in having students pay the fees, Mutegha said they do their best despite some challenges.
“We have people even from ministries on promotional programmes who come for upgrading. They make arrangements with the institution since it is a government department and they are allowed to continue before squaring off the fees,” he said.
Mutegha, however, said the institution’s policy does not condone intimate relationships between students and facilitators to ensure smooth running of the learning process.
Brainex Kaise, chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Education, said the students and administrators are on the wrong side.
Kaise said when students apply, they are told conditions for admission and payment of fees is among such conditions.
“College fees are clearly stipulated on the advertisement that calls for students to apply for admission. Therefore, non-payment of fees is a violation of the obligation of the students,” he said.
He, however, added that on the other hand, non-collection of money by any pubic officer is an offence, according to Public Finance Management Act.
Kaise said there was need to investigate issues surrounding SDI and take action on those who are failing to collect fees.
“This is a very serious issue. Supplementary exams are a prerequisite for any college to administer because they give chances to those who have failed to be assessed for the second time. On the part of the school’s management, it helps them to have final grades of each candidate,” he said.
He said it was unacceptable if supplementary exams are not administered at the institution.
Kaise said what is happening at SDI can demotivate students from working hard, hence lowering education standards at the college.
‘’I call upon officials from National Council for Higher Education to investigate the issue. If it is true, the college needs to be closed,’’ he said.
SDI has, in the past, offered training to top officials in society such as the now-retired child magistrate Esmie Tembenu.
Asked to comment about the enforcement of fees policy at SDI, Tembenu said she was not in a position to provide her views because during her school days, the government paid her fees.
“I don’t know how the payments were being done in those days, but as for examinat ions, those who failed were sitting for supplementary examinations,” she said.
Education expert Steve Sharra said if indeed the school is not adhering to its set of rules, then that can affect its output.
‘’I think the school needs to be clear on why it is not administering supplementary examinations, otherwise it doesn’t make sense. It sounds as if they are just allowing people to go the next level even if they didn’t do well in the previous level. Chances are that they will be graduating students who didn’t really grasp the content,’’ he said.
Council for Higher Education spokesperson, Priscilla Zikapa, whose organisation ensures that tertially institutions comfort to set standards, said her organisation was unable to give a reaction to what is happening at SDI because the council’s chief executive officer was out of office.
Established in 1962 as a civil service training institution, SDI is a training arm of the Malawi Civil Service.
The institution is administratively placed under the Department of Human Resource Management and Development in the Office of the President and Cabinet.
Over the years, it has evolved from being a purely civil servants’ training institution to one that caters for both public and private sector organisations.
SDI’s mission is to provide demand-driven practical training, consultancy and research services to clients within and outside Malawi in order to help them exceed their clients’ needs and expectations.