By Howard Mlozi:
Research proves that providing vulnerable children, particularly girls, with the right support services and corridors to education enables them to reclaim their future.
For 18-year-old Victoria Nsonda from Thukutu Village in Karonga District, passing through a thick and dangerous forest to and from school was one of her daily struggles and frightful experience, which haunted her education and life. She is quick to describe the bushy, narrow and zigzagging path in the Maluwa Forest as a ‘death trap’.
Victoria covers an approximate distance of 14 Kilometres from her home to school and back, including passing through the said dense forest.
“Countless times I have been proposed to by different men in the dangerous forest and sometimes I pretend to be dumb when they pour out their proposals or abuse at me,” Victoria said, adding that she has been running on many occasions due to fear of being attacked.
However, her situation improved when she received a bicycle from Education Expertise Development Foundation (EEDF) under Her Education Her Right project, which seeks to increase school retention, performance and completion among vulnerable girls in rural areas of Malawi. The project has been implemented with support from the European Union (EU) under the Improving Secondary Education in Malawi (Isem) programme.
She said the bicycle helped to improve her mobility, time management as well as tactics to avoid violence on her way to and from home or school.
“On the other hand, the bicycle has given me protection of some kind because it helps me to avoid unnecessary proposals and abuse from men, especially when I am passing through the forest. I normally speed off my bike and this makes it difficult for men to talk or stop me,” Victoria said.
She added that she was no longer arriving at school or home late as a result of walking a long distance. Victoria is one of many girls who have received the bicycles in order to overcome a challenge of long distance, which is one of the hindrances of girls’ education in Malawi.
Challenges of CDSS education in Malawi
Community Day Secondary Schools (CDSSs) in Malawi continue to face significant challenges ranging from lack of well-trained teachers to limited teaching and learning materials. Long distance also poses a hindrance to promoting girls’ education and motivating vulnerable children (including child brides) from rural area to complete secondary education in Malawi.
Victoria disclosed that long distance renders many students, especially girls, vulnerable to violence such as attacks and sexual abuse on their way to and from school. Economic hardships and frequent student absenteeism also affect students’ performance, especially in national examinations.
In 2017, the Minister of Education Agnes Nyalonje, who was then vice-chairperson of a Parliamentary Committee on Education, told the media that critical absence of resources such as laboratories and libraries in CDSSs are some major challenges facing CDSS education in Malawi.
Nyalonje was quoted as saying: “We cannot talk about improving education standards if we neglect community secondary schools. In two years, the first cohort of the new curriculum will be sitting for Malawi School Certificate of Education examinations which will be science-based, hence the need for laboratories and libraries.”
Driven by its motto ‘Because education truly helps”, EEDF is investing in education to support vulnerable children and young people’s access to, and the provision of quality education in Malawi.
EEDF Executive Director Robert Mponela said many vulnerable students, particularly girls, were dropping out of school due to factors such as long distance, lack of school fees, child marriages and lack of motivation or interest in education; hence, the introduction of Her Education Her Right project by the organisation in 25 CDSSs from across the country.
It is being implemented in 10 schools; Namiwawa CDSS (Blantyre), Mfera CDSS (Chikwawa), Lufilya and St. Ann’s CDSSs in Karonga, Chibavi (Mzuzu), St. Augustine (Nkhata-Bay) Mkanjira (Mangochi), Mayaka (Zomba), Nkhande (Chiradzulu) and Thyolo’s Mikombe CDSS in order to increase enrolment, retention and completion rates for vulnerable girls.
The project is being implemented through other partner organisations of Girls Empowerment Network (Genet), Teachers Union of Malawi (Tum) and Centre for Youth Empowerment and Civic Education (CYECE), with Edukans Foundation Malawi as a lead organisation.
With support from the MasterCard Foundation (MCF) and Edukans Netherlands, EEDF also implemented a project called STAR School in CDSS in 16 schools in Mzimba South, Lilongwe Rural East, Mangochi and Chikwawa. The project strives to facilitate transition, retention of students and help improve educational outcomes by improving quality of teaching and learning environment.
“Basically, STAR School Model was developed by the Edukans Foundation to ensuring a comprehensive, hands-on school quality model that helps schools develop a high-level learning environment for their students. It uses what is termed EDUStars which supports, analyses and improves the five pillars that determine quality education in CDSSs,” Mponela said.
EEDF has been implementing the STAR School in CDSS project since 2017.
“We believe that good education for children starts with a safe, enabling learning environment and home-support,” Mponela said.
What is the impact of the work?
For the past three years, EEDF and its partners, including Ministry of Education, has worked with over 20, 000 learners and trained 80 teachers in Active Teaching and Learning (ATL) methodologies, 80 in Effective School Leadership and Management and 480 community leaders under the STAR School in CDSS education.
The activities have resulted in both improved school retention and performance of learners. For example, 56 students were selected to different constituent colleges of the University of Malawi in 2019. Out of this number, 21 are girls.
There has also been an improvement in boys’ attitudes over girls and active participation of girls in class activities which has led to their improved performance and self-esteem. This resulted in reduced school drop-out due to traveling long distance to school as well as pregnancies and child marriages.
“We believe that adequate resources, qualified and motivated teachers, and active participation of communities is key to improving quality education in CDSSs. We are also looking forward to continued partnership with both local and international partners to ensuring that vulnerable children receive quality education in the country. Now, the impact of Covid-19 is dire as some children are out of school and currently need boost to regain the confidence. Together, we need to build equal and sustainable future for all children,” Mponela said.
Under Her Education Her Right project, 400 bicycles have been provided to 400 learners (330 girls and 70 boys), education bursaries to 597 students (570 girls and 27 boys, community mobilisation on self-boarding facilities (250 girls out of 400 living in safer self-boarding now). And 1165 students (673 girls and 492 boys) received Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and 94 teachers were trained in Gender Responsive Pedagogy (GRP).