It is mid October and the weather is extremely hot. The atmosphere is characterised by an unpleasant odour due to sweating but nonetheless the tedious learning process is underway in a poorly-ventilated classroom at Mthumba Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) in Chikwawa District.
The packed classroom, which is dimly lit, is punctuated with uneasiness. Learners are sweating profusely and fanning themselves with books.
“It’s damn hot in here. I can’t concentrate. I don’t even know what the teacher is saying,” one of the students from the back row yelled.
Normally, the classroom is designed to accommodate 60 learners, but this time around, it has swallowed more than 100. Three students have squeezed themselves on each two-seater desk while others are standing at the back and both sides of the classroom.
Elizabeth Alfonso Redson says over-crowding has been a challenge for a long time at her school, impacting negatively on learners’ outcomes.
“Sometimes a teacher may come in class and go without you capturing the lessons they were teaching. This is because everyone is busy murmuring due to over-crowding. Dare to come late, you risk spending the whole day learning while standing because we do scramble for the few desks,” Elizabeth said.
Elizabeth’s story is corroborated by her head teacher, Mzava Meki, who adds that over-crowding at the school does not only obstruct learning but also impacts on the health of learners.
“Health wise, over-crowding brings about discomfort, particularly for girls. Some girls are forced to absent themselves from school especially when they are menstruating. Imagine, someone on her menses jostling for desks or squeezing themselves in a congested classroom. As a result, this affects quality of learning and teaching,” Meki said.
She further added that overcrowding steals learners’ confidence, concentration and comfortability in classroom.
According to United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), education is a key investment tool for child survival, growth, development and well-being. Education also contributes to higher incomes, individual empowerment and decreased poverty levels.
Improving the quality of learning contributes to economic growth. For Malawi to reap the demographic dividend, the country will need to invest more in children and young persons, of which secondary education is the foundation.
Malawi’s 17.6 million population, with over 50 per cent (8.89 million) individuals below 18 years of age, remains very young.
Unfortunately, many children who enrol in primary school do not transition to secondary school.
Only 38.4 percent of children transition from primary to secondary school (40.9 percent for boys and 35.8 percent for girls) and of those that do, only eight percent move on to tertiary education. Net enrolment rate for secondary school is very low, estimated at 16 per cent in 2017 for both boys and girls (EMIS, 2017).
The total enrolment in secondary school was 372,885 against total primary school enrolment of 5,073,721, in 2017. The national average for pupils per qualified teacher ratio in secondary school stands at 45.4.
One of the biggest challenges of enrolment is the limited number of secondary schools.
For the entire country, there are only 1,411 secondary schools compared to 6,065 primary schools.
To ease the overcrowding challenge, the Education Expertise Development Foundation (EEDF) mobilised resources and communities to build two new classroom blocks under Star School Project.
EEDF Programme and Communications Officer, Howard Mlozi, says the organisation built the two classroom blocks with support from a Dutch organization called Stichting Fortuna through a Dutch national Bert Vastenburg, who visited Mthumba CDSS under the Edukans Foundation’s World Teacher (WT) program.
“Basically, the idea of the Star School Project is to contribute towards promotion and provision of quality education in Malawi. As EEDF, we exist to complement government efforts aimed at uplifting the standards of education. Therefore, constructing the new classroom block at Mthumba CDSS is in line with our mandate which is promoting quality education in order to empower underprivileged children and the youth,” Mlozi said.
The classroom block was constructed to the tune of K15 million and it was officially handed over to Ministry of Education, Science and Technology through South West Education Division (Swed).
Town Pest Control and Building Contractors Executive Director, Rose Kapatangondo, whose company constructed the schools blocks, highlights financial prudence and community involvement as factors that led to success of the project.
“I thank EEDF and community members for their commitment towards the construction of this classroom block because it took their prudence and dedication to construct such as a beautiful classroom block at a lower cost,” she said.
EEDF engaged community members in School Improvement Plans (SIP) training, which resulted in formulation of SIP committees and mobilization or local resources such as bricks and sand towards the construction of the classroom block.
Group Village Head (GVH) Fombe from the area of Traditional Authority (T/A) Kasisi expressed gratitude over the new classroom blocks.
“EEDF taught us that a community day secondary school is run by communities. And today, we are happy that together with this organization we have achieved something big which we will live to remember,” Fombe said.
Inspector of Secondary Schools, Christopher Ziba, commends EEDF for constructing the classroom blocks, emphasising that government alone cannot achieve quality education in Malawi.
“In needs several players like EEDF to come in because together we are stronger to make great strides,” Ziba said.
One of the learners, 18-year-old Zione Limited, describes EEDF’s intervention as key to promoting children’s access to quality learning.
“My ambition is to become a journalist. But it was hard for me to learn and concentrate in an overcrowded classroom with over 100 students. But today, we are grateful to EEDF for constructing an extra classroom block at our school. This will support learners like me to learn comfortably and concentrate,” She said.
For the time being, learners at Mthumba CDSS can breathe easy, courtesy of the two new blocks which will ease overcrowding.