If it were not for a strong zeal for parents to keep the school up and running and dedication of the four available teachers, Mankhamba Primary School in Ntchisi would not be there today.
The community moved government to establish the school to save children of school-going age from the trouble of travelling an average of six kilometres to other surrounding schools
Mankhamba Primary School Head teacher Jesmon Kanyemba says by the time he was transferred to Mankhamba, there was not any structure at the school.
He says he left Ntchisi district education manager’s (DEM) office with only the new school’s number: EMIS 507388. The number was an assurance to him that the school is recognised by government.
When he arrived at his new school, Kanyemba says he was only shown bare land on which he was supposed to raise a junior primary school to cater for children who could not travel long and hilly distances to surrounding schools such as Mwangala, Kalira 1 and Nyalavu in Makanda Zone.
“When I arrived here, I found nothing. Yet government said I was posted to a school. I met the other three teachers, the chiefs and some parents and formed a task force to help setting up the school. Within two days, we started teaching the children under trees which are here,” he explains.
In the first month of the second term of the 2015 to 2016 academic year, the school saw the enrollment of children rise to 167 as children, who had dropped out of school, from the surrounding 23 villages returned to school. The school had standards One to Four.
Thereafter, traditional leaders and parents agreed that every village should contribute money for construction of the school block. Each village was told to contribute K25,000 which was used to construct a single block comprising two class rooms of standards Three and Four.
Despite giving the teachers only a school’s number, Kanyemba says, inspectors still visit the school to check if the teachers are meeting the required standards.
“At first, it was painful because it was like they [inspectors] were coming to insult me. They find me at the school and ask for administrative records which are kept at my house, two kilometres away from the school. When I tell them the details are at home, it is an issue on its own,” he says.
Of all the teachers, only the head teacher lives near the school – at two kilometers – while the other teachers have to travel eight kilometres to school each school day.
As of this year, the school has 357 learners, a ratio of at least 90 learners for every teacher.
What is, however, more worrying about the school is that there seems to be no interest from government and other stakeholders to improve its current status. Its fate has been left in the hands of communities.
The school has unsanitary toilets, no water, no staff houses, no administration block, no office, no classroom furniture and no recreation facilities for children’s extra curriculum activities.
Learning and teaching materials are in short supply. The only thing in abundance is the commitment of teachers and learners.
Malawi’s education challenges are aging now. After the introduction of free primary school education in 1994 in the country, primary education quality is said to be going down due to, among other things, an increasing number of learners that are being handled by few teachers.
However, a comparison between Malawi and other countries that have free primary education shows that Malawi has other multiple challenges hindering the progress in quality of education.
This, according to the World Bank and other sources, is as a result of the country’s failure to increase budgetary allocation to the Education Ministry to finance construction of modern classrooms as well as recruitment of the qualified teachers to reduce the teacher-to-pupil ratio currently at an average of one teacher to around 90 learners.
Despite various challenges children in Malawi face to access quality education, quality education is a fundamental right for every child as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Malawi is party to.
But various challenges in the country’s education sector have contributed to school dropout which remains a concern for the country.
Currently, only 58.5 percent of children in Malawi finishes the first four years of primary school. Long distances, early marriages and pregnancies are among the most common reasons given for school dropout.
Mankhamba Primary is just one of the schools beset by such challenges.
Ntchisi DEM Joseph Nkhata says his office does not have funds for construction of school structures.
At the moment, Nkhata says, the responsibility to construct school blocks is left in the hands of parents or Local Development Fund (LDF).
“The current government policy is that the responsibility to construct a school is left in the hands of communities and LDF. Our offices are only given money for minor maintenances,” says Nkhata.
For Mankhamba Primary, the DEM says his office has supplied the school with 15 bags of cement.
He says to get other needs, the school committee was advised to meet the ward councillor for him to lobby at the council for funds to construct classroom blocks and
Bawala Ward Councillor in Ntchisi South Constituency Frackson Sefasi says, currently, it is difficult for the school to get support from the district council because the school started when the council had already formulated its five year social economic plan.
“Maybe with CDF [Constituency Development Fund] it can work,” he says.
As time passes, the communities’ hope diminishes. In the past two years, the school has managed to “graduate” some learners to go to Standard Five but because there is no enough structures and teachers at the school, the learners have gone back home waiting for the upgrading of the school to Standard Five.
“Almost all learners who were in Standard Four last year have temporarily dropped out of school waiting for the introduction of Standard Five at the school. Some are repeating just to keep themselves busy because most of them cannot manage to travel long distances to other schools,” says Hardwick Tembo, School Committee Deputy Chairperson.
This situation, however, will definitely disadvantage more learners such that by the time Standard Five is introduced at the school, most of them would have been swallowed by tobacco farms that are common in this area.
As lucky children across the country learn, in at least partly improved conditions, the future for children at Mankhamba Primary School number EMIS 507388 remains dark due to authorities’ inability to priorities them.
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