I, Dear Pain, thought students were back to their senses now; I was wrong. Despite that, the country has been facing myriad challenges to ensure that it meets its education sector goals— which include poor infrastructure, inadequate teachers, and pittance pay, among others— there seem to be people who are bent on bringing us back to square one. I am talking about students who let anger get the best of them, for whatever reason.
Just recently, some students were nabbed on suspicion that they incited violence, which led to the petrol bombing of a staff room at St John Bosco Secondary School in Mzimba District. The school head teacher is quoted as saying the suspected arsonists went that ‘extra’ this mile following disagreements with school managers over food.
It is suspected that the students wanted to be served with extra rice but, before the issue could be resolved, some students went berserk and that is how all hell broke loose. I was not happy with that, considering that the government has been investing a lot in the country’s education sector. Some students, in some corners of the country, need some of the resources that have been destroyed, which I am told are valued at K15 million.
We are talking about computers, desks, chairs, and teaching and learning materials. Destruction of property does not serve any purpose but is of course, becoming a recurrent problem. Take, for instance, the action of Bilira Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) students in the Ntcheu District on December 3 2019.
The students went on a rampage in reaction to unverified reports that one public university lecturer from one of the country’s cities had an affair with a girl learner at the school. Some students vandalised school property, culminating in the closure of the school.
Property worth millions was destroyed, according to school officials. Some of the destroyed items included an administration block, a teacher’s house and windows of the school hall. Three students were also arrested in connection with the incident and were charged with causing malicious damage. When classes resumed the next day, school officials imposed one condition: Students that were involved in the vandalism had to shoulder maintenance costs.
Some two years before that incident, a case of vandalism of school property was registered in Mchinji District, where 15 students were arrested in connection with the same. The incident, which happened in March 2017, saw Chimteka CDSS hatching a plan to vandalise school property, a move that did not please head teacher Clement Mponda.
In January of the same year, students at the school had vented their anger on school property. There were indications, at the time, that the border district of Mchinji was becoming the hotspot of school vandalism because, between September 2016 and January 2017, property at Chimteka, Kholoni and Kochirira CDSSs had been vandalised.
Indeed, as if living to the billing of a ‘developing school vandalism hotspot’, Mchinji was back in the limelight for bad news again in 2019, two years after the Chimteka, Kholoni and Kochirira CDSS incidents. This is because, in November 2019, Malawi Police Service agents arrested 12 students at Magawa Secondary School for vandalising school property.
The arrests were part of police interventions to restore peace at the school. Powered by their anger, the students had, among other things, petrol-bombed the administration block which, of course, housed the head teacher’s office.
Ntcheu Secondary School has, also, fallen prey to school vandalism at one point or another. Lunzu, Thyolo and Euthini secondary schools have not escaped the wrath of students, who have gone to the extent of damaging fixed assets. In 2019, for instance, authorities at Lunzu Secondary School in Blantyre dismissed 56 students and suspended 28 others following violent demonstrations which forced the school to close. During the fracas, the irate students destroyed teachers’ houses and torched a multipurpose hall. Students at Lunzu Secondary School were then asked to be paying K111,000 each for five months to be re-admitted to the school. Elsewhere, Thyolo Secondary School appealed for financial assistance amounting to K40 million to repair the damage the students caused in protest over what they claimed to be illegal enrolment of students.
The school was closed on October 17 2019 after students destroyed school property. At Euthini in the Northern Region, students destroyed property worth millions of Kwacha too, in some of the vandalism cases registered in schools this far.
The developments have not escaped the attention of the Ministry of Education which has, in the past three years, issued two statements condemning acts of vandalism perpetuated by students. Komani Augustine Chikombe Tembo indicates, in research whose findings can be found in the Mzuzu University Digital Repository, that “continuous reports of students’ vandalism in secondary schools in Malawi are of great concern”.
In his study, conducted under the topic “A Phenomenological Analysis of Vandalism by Students in Secondary Schools: Perspectives of Teachers and Students in Northern Education Division of Malawi’, the researcher sought to unearth circumstances that lead to vandalism from the perspectives of both teachers and students in secondary schools in Malawi.
In short, the study finds both students and teachers at fault. “In light of this, students may not be the only parties to be blamed but also teachers, school authorities, the surrounding communities, proprietors and other stakeholders. Therefore, solutions must be direct to the all the mentioned stakeholders. It has been noted that secondary school vandalism has considerable negative effects and impacts on teaching and learning and later defeats the purpose of schooling…” the research paper reads. What this means is that Malawi is sitting on a ticking bomb; one that will leave us battered — an undesirable situation.