Nsanje District has become associated with failure in national examinations since, as one of the country’s 34 education districts, it finds itself on number 34 more than on any other number. But, as LLYWELLENIE MPASA writes, this is about to change.
To be a national examinations’ candidate in Nsanje District is to be on the edge.
Sometimes, Nsanje District Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations candidates can perform worse than those who sit examinations while serving prison sentences in Malawi Prison Service institutions.
That is as worse as it can get.
For instance, while 44 out of 79 prisoners who sat 2021 MSCE examinations passed the test, representing a 55.6 percent rate, the majority of examination centres in the Southern Region district produced rates lower than this.
The preceding year, the pass rate in prisons, where 34 out of 68 prisoners passed examinations, was at 50 percent.
In terms of points scored, the best candidate in penitentiary institutions came from Mzuzu Prison and scored 18 points, as compared to the previous year (2020), when the best-scoring prisoner chalked an impressive 17 points.
In Nsanje District, however, scoring 18 or 17 points can as well be considered a miracle, as candidates have, for long, been singing the familiar song of disappointment.
Even when the situation is improving nationally, things keep on getting worse in the district, which is also known for courting trouble with natural disasters such as floods.
When she was announcing results of 2021 MSCE examinations on 31 January this year, Education Minister Agnes NyaLonje described the national pass rate of 51.9 percent as “the most improved in the past three years”.
Malawi National Examinations Board (Maneb) results indicated that, out of 123,008 candidates that sat examinations, 63,949 had passed, representing a 51.9 percent pass rate.
According to Maneb, this is 10 percent higher than 2020 results, when 41.2 percent of candidates passed.
“This demonstrates improvement. We will make sure that we maintain the trend. The ministry will analyse the situation and learn from divisions that have done better,” she said
Maneb Executive Director Dorothy Nampota said 14 schools had registered a 100 percent pass rate while six had registered zero percent.
The board also said 115 special needs students had passed out of 262 candidates.
Zomba Urban topped the list of districts that performed well, followed by Dowa, Phalombe, Mzuzu, Dedza, Ntchisi and Mulanje.
Where is Nsanje District? Nowhere!
Now officials in the district are tired of being associated with failure; deciding, instead, to reinvent the wheels of education in their bid to improve on candidates’ showing in national examinations.
The examinations in question, according to Nsanje District Education Manager Greystone Alindiamao, include Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education (PSLCE), Junior Certificate of Education (JCE) and MSCE.
To accomplish his mission, namely that of “saving Nsanje national examinations’ candidates from failure”, Alindiamao has been on the ground, mobilising traditional leaders, education experts, area development committee chairpersons, parents and student representatives so that, together, they can help examinations candidates perform well.
“It is not good that our district has always been among the worst ones. There are 34 education districts in Malawi and, when it comes to performance in national examinations, Nsanje has been the 34th district,” he lamented.
He cites poor education infrastructure, lack of learning resources and archaic traditional beliefs among factors that have militated against stakeholders’ best efforts to put Nsanje on the map, when it comes to performing well in national examinations.
“Our district of Nsanje has 24 public secondary schools, out of which only four schools have science laboratories and three have libraries.
“In addition to this, learners who learn in up to 663 classes in different primary schools in our district learn under trees due to the problem of inadequate classroom blocks,” he said.
Nsanje has 13 education zones, with 20 public and four private schools.
Records indicate that 55 percent of candidates who pass their Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education Examinations (PSLCE) from Nsanje District fail to progress to secondary school due to lack of space.
The future of such children is nipped in the bud since they are forced to stay at home.
It is factors like these that have prompted Alindiamao to adopt a public involvement approach that entails promoting dialogue with stakeholders.
The other approach is to call for harmonisation, alignment and proper management of education systems which, in the long run, would improve results.
Senior Chief Malemia has already embraced the idea.
“We have agreed to put in place punitive measures that will deter people from retrogressive behaviour that may disturb our children from attaining universal education.
“We want our children to be a beacon of hope to Malawi; we want them to be competing favourably with those from other districts. I do not believe that the Nsanje national examinations candidate was created to fail; our children are as good as children in other education districts of the country,” Malemia said.
Foundation for Civic Education and Social Empowerment, which has been working with partners such as Norwegian ChurchAid and DanChurchAid to promote education standards in Nsanje District, has, meanwhile, expressed commitment to help stakeholders in the district find a lasting solution to the problem of persistent failure in national examinations.
The organisation’s programmes manager, John Bamusi, said education was one of the areas that would help people in the district embrace socio-economic empowerment.
“If children embrace education and do their best in national examinations, they can complement efforts being made to improve the wellbeing of people in the district.
“Education is the key to success,” he said.
However, Michael Pitala Amigo, who is a small-scale trader at the Boma, felt that stakeholders had realised that the situation was dire “too late”.
“If people came together to look at ways of improving education standards in the district earlier, people like me would have gone to college by now,” said Amigo, who dropped out of school after failing PSLCE examinations at Namiyala Primary School in the district.
The 28-year-old now looks after his three children, who he hopes will do better than him when time to sit PSLCE examinations comes.