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School closure to propel dropout rate

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Benedicto Kondowe

Chances are very high that some learners, particularly in rural areas, could drop out of school in light of the prolonged closure of learning institutions in March this year across the country, as a measure of controlling the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19).

Random interviews with different learners across the country established that most of them do not have an idea of what the much touted online learning, which government had adopted in the period, is all about.

As a result, a majority of them resorted to entrepreneurship, as a way of passing time.

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Others from the Eastern Region, who confided in Malawi News, said they have been told to marry after impregnating their partners.

Abraham Rajabu [real name withheld] said his girlfriend is four months pregnant and when their two families met, the father of the girl left her at his home; a clear signal that he wants the two to get married.

“As you know, when such happens, the girl was brought to my home I accepted the pregnancy and to my surprise, when her parents were leaving, they left her behind. When they left, I had no choice but to take her in as a wife..I mean she was left to be sharing a room with me.

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“However, now it meant I needed to fend for her and the home…my parents encouraged me that I should find piece work so that I am able to take care of the girl and save up for the baby so I do not think I will go back to school when we re-open because of the responsibility that I have now, I just need to make ends meet,” he said.

Another victim, Saidi Mvero, comes from Thyolo District but is currently residing in Bangwe Township, Blantyre and has been hunting for jobs in the city, arguing four months at home has done more damage than good.

“At this point, I am looking for any kind of piece work in different households. I actually would not mind working as a garden boy or even house boy because l have to find money for rent, food and all other necessities in my life.

“Much as it was a way of protecting us from the virus but certain measures should have been put in place before considering closure of schools as a first measure. And you can imagine from that time until today we have done nothing. This arrangement worked better for those in private schools but for us in government schools, we are actually becoming dull due to idleness,” he said.

Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec) Executive Director, Benedicto Kondowe described the situation as unfortunate but was quick to say this was inevitable as the period in which schools have been closed is long.

Kondowe said the impact of the closure of schools is one that has to be accessed critically before the future leaders lose interest in education.

“The unprecedented closure of schools that we had is that, even at a time when schools will open, we are going to have high dropout rate among students for a number of reasons. The learners are frustrated they have been demotivated to the extent that some of them do not even see the value of education.

“Some might have engaged in other things like business…now the exposure to money would serve as a deterrent for their return to school once schools re-open. Others are those that have been impregnated and as such, they will not return to school in good time and some of the boys have been told to marry the girl they impregnated,” he said.

There was no immediate comment from the Minister of Education, Agnes Nyalonje as well as officials from the ministry.

Thus far, over 7,274 teenage girls have become pregnant in Mangochi District within the six month period that schools have been closed.

District officials say the figure is 1039 higher when compared to a similar period last years. This means that an average of 40 girls are becoming pregnant every day; further translating to a girl becoming pregnant every single hour in the district.

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