The calamity which has befallen the country due to floods caused by heavy rains has affected every sector in the country. Most of the victims are seeking refuge in school blocks. But in providing such a temporary solution to the perennial problem, EMMANUEL CHIRWA has, in this Friday Shaker, established that another problem is being created—that of violeting learners’ right to education.
It started with heavy rains which fell unceasingly. On March 6 2019 in the evening, a horde of villagers started off on a 16-kilometre journey to Mchenga Primary School at Ngabu in Chikwawa District.
The people camped on the veranda of some classrooms at the school. They were from Traditional Authority Makhuwira in the district.
Their property, including houses, had just been washed away by an overflowing Shire River. Authorities gave the villagers two classrooms to spend the night in.
The next day, more people—some from as far as Group Village Head Gumbala, Nsanje District; which is on the other side of the river—sought refuge at the school.
To reach the school, the villagers had to cross the flooded Shire on canoes and other vessels improvised from tree barks. Come March 9, the school was home to 1,500 people.
School authorities had no choice but to accommodate the helpless people.
Such was the level of desperation—the classroom’s status shifting from that of hostel at night to learning area during the day.
But such goodwill had its repercussions, the school’s head teacher, Kapito Clemence, noted.
“During daytime, the campers stay at the school ground with their belongings to give room to learners but, when rains come, we interrupt lessons and put learners of various grades in one classroom to accommodate the campers,” Clemence said.
The school is now home to 2,000 people who share 15 toilets, thereby posing a health risk to learners as some people shun toilets.
Mchenga School is not alone in this situation. Khulubvi Primary School in Thondwe, Zomba the and countless others have also been affected by the floods.
Khulubvi Primary School Head teacher, Luciano Chikalimba, admitted that floods have affected teaching and learning at the school.
“We conduct lessons under a tree because some of the classrooms are occupied by people affected by heavy rains. Our classes are so big that they cannot be manned by one teacher. We split them into A and B but, under the circumstances, we are forced to combine them, making it difficult to effectively deliver lessons,” he said.
Chikalimba said children who are incapable of using toilets defecate in the open. This poses a health hazard to the school.
Health officers distributed chemicals and gloves for use in cleaning but teaching and learning remain a challenge at the school.
In the long run, such an environment undermines delivery of quality education.
“Our fear is that learners are not concentrating enough when we teach them. Most get distracted while learning. Moreover, the presence of many people and other activities at the school puts off some of the learners,” Chikalimba said.
Clemence said the environment prevents them from meeting the needs of each learner while some learners shun classes altogether.
The Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) indicates that the country has 173 evacuation centres that accommodate victims of floods. Most of these centres are primary school rooms.
Civil Society Education Coalition Executive Director, Benedicto Kondowe, said the schools that are accommodating victims are not conducive to learning.
He said, as the nation is helping floods victims, it is also violating other people’s rights.
“Right to education is fundamental and needs not be infringed on. We understand that the situation which the disasters have, for ages, been causing is unbearable but we ought to see to it that the right to education is not violated. When learners fail to learn because school blocks are accommodating people who have been affected by floods, this violates the learners’ right to education,” Kondowe said.
Kondowe said it was high time the government and all stakeholders found long-lasting solutions to the problem of people affected by disasters lodging in schools.
He said lodging in schools should be the last resort and a temporary measure.
“Problems of disasters, especially those related to floods, are perennial in Malawi. What differs is just the magnitude. That being the case, the government and stakeholders should be vigilant in addressing these problems. There is need for construction of more shelters to house those affected by disasters instead of accommodating them in school,” Kondowe said.
He said people that stay in flood-prone areas should adhere to the government’s call to relocate upland.
He said doing so would keep the children, whose education gets disrupted in the course of running away from floods, t in school.
But Education, Science and Technology Ministry’s spokesperson, Lindiwe Chide, said they have put in place measures to ensure that school lessons are not disrupted whenever floods hit the country.
Chide said her ministry has collaborated with Dodma in distributing tents to schools that are accommodating flood victims.
“We are distributing tents which will either be used for lessons or lodging by people affected by floods—depending on each school management’s decision,” she said.
Chide said the ministry had dispatched 48 tents to schools and more are expected to be sent to all affected schools.
Chide said they were not only responding to needs of schools that are accommodating flood victims but also those that had lost teaching and learning materials to the floods.
“We are also sending education boxes which have textbooks and exercise books for schools and learners that have lost stationery materials to the floods,” she said.
Dodma and the Ministry of Education are working hand-in-hand to distribute tents to the affected schools.
Principal Secretary and Dodma Commissioner, Wilson Moleni, said some districts have received tents and the exercise is on-going.
“We have distributed tents to some districts, such as Phalombe and Mulanje, to mention a few, and the exercise is on-going. We will ensure that we reach each and every centre, including areas where classes have been disrupted,” he said.
“Our plan is that the government, in collaboration with international non-governmental organisations, should build more evacuation centres. Places where these structures will be erected have been earmarked. Once the project is done, the issue of flood victims being accommodated in schools will be a tale of the past,” he said.
But, as of now, schools are bearing the brunt of floods.
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