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Scars of student’s anger

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Peter Mutharika

At first, such as when Salima Boys Secondary School (Sabo) was about to relocate from Salima Boma to Kaphatenga and become Salima Secondary School, students could hold peaceful demonstrations.

That is shortly after Malawians voted for multiparty politics of government in 1994.

For example, when Sabo students were tired of having cooked beans on the lunch and dinner menu five times a week and cabbage four times a week, they marched to the District Education Officer’s office at Kamuzu Road, while chanting:

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Konzeka/

Konzeka iwe/

Konzeka/

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Konzeka/

Konzeka iwe/

Konzeka/

CHORUS

M’bale wanga

M’bale wanga konzeka

Mwina mawa ndi mpunga

Konzeka iwe

Konzeka

M’bale wanga

M’bale wanga konzeka

Mwina mawa ndi nyama

Konzeka iwe

Konzeka

Within two weeks, the rice and beef the students had demanded to be on the menu frequently were incorporated on the Sabo menu.

However, over the years, student action has been taking a more violent nature, as some misinformed students have tended to take advantage of such events to vent their anger on school property.

Take, for instance, action taken by Bilira Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) students in Ntcheu District on December 3 2019.

The students went on 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 of Kwacha 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 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.

“Management and the school committee agreed that the students who were involved should share the cost of damage done to the school,” school head-teacher, Boniface Malunga, indicated at the time.

Some two years before, 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 their head teacher Clement Mponda.

“I was tipped by some students that their friends had planned to destroy school property. This prompted me to call police from Kamwendo Trading Centre, who immediately came to our rescue the same night and arrested some of the students,” he said.

Had the plan been successful, it could have been the second time school property would be vandalised in one year.

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 up to the billing of a ‘developing school vandalism hotspot’, Mchinji District was back in the limelight for the wrong reasons 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.

Mchinji Police Station spokesperson Kaitano Lubrino indicated at the time that the students vandalised school property in protest against the school administration’s decision to suspend one student who was found with a radio set, which was against school regulations.

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.

However, according to former students, led by the Ntcheu Secondary School Alumni Association, there is a need to join hands and address challenges such as vandalism and lack of materials.

The association has just donated 250 plastic chairs worth K3.5 million to the school, with out-going treasurer Owen Sopo calling on the school authorities to put the resources to good use while reining in on vandalism.

“Almost everything in the hostels is dilapidated; you talk of the sewer system, beds, mattresses— nothing really seems to be in order,” he said, blaming lack of resources and vandalism for the development.

Ntcheu Secondary School Head teacher Jilles Puma said they are working tirelessly to address the problem of indiscipline which, he admitted, has been contributing to loss of property through vandalism at the school, which has over 600 students.

Lunzu, Thyolo and Euthini secondary schools have not escaped the wrath of students, who went 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 in order 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 their claimed to be illegal enrolment of students.

Thyolo Secondary 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.

“We have noted with concern that some individuals engage in barbaric acts as a way of expressing their right but the public should know that exercising one’s right through demonstrations should not be done through vandalism of school property,” the ministry said in one statement.

In another statement, the ministry said: “Vandalism negatively affects efforts aimed at addressing problems students face because the government spends a lot of money when renovating destroyed property. Students should be reporting to authorities when they face problems in their schools.”

At one point, the then State president Peter Mutharika condemned students who were destroying school property, describing the development as counter-productive.

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 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.

The United States (US) Department of Justice, Office of the Justice, indicates that there are a number of causes of school vandalism.

“Studies indicate that vandalising behaviour can be spawned by many direct and indirect influences on youth. Many researchers focus on the school as the primary factor in vandalising behaviour, citing inadequate curricula and reward systems as precipitative of destructive student behaviour. School locations (urban, suburban or rural) also appear to affect school vandalism. Teachers and administrators who are rule-oriented and achievement-oriented rather than student-oriented have also been cited as factors in rebellious student behaviour.

“Home and family, as well as larger community and societal influences, have also been identified as harbouring influences that impact vandalising behaviour. Families that fail to cultivate ego strength and firm values in their children and a peer society that seeks fulfilment in drug use can contribute to disorientation and violence among youth.

“Further, community institutions and agencies that fail to provide attention to, and support for, troubled youths give them few alternatives to acting out destructive emotions. Prevention strategies should focus on the design and use of current and proposed school facilities, including security features; the training of school personnel to be sensitive to individual student needs; the involvement of the community, including families, in providing and encouraging alternatives for positive behaviour and development for youth; and the creation of a learning environment that builds rather than undermines student self-images,” it submits.

The US may be thousands of miles away from Malawi but, it seems, when it comes to the issue of vandalism, problems are all the same.

Unfortunately, vandalism of school property has the potential to negatively affect the achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 4, which aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

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