Some 10 years ago or so, the Ministry of Education held in Blantyre a consultative meeting on curriculum revision. Interested private organisations were requested to send representatives. The chief executive of Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry asked me to attend.
After the chairperson had given an outline of what the delegates were to discuss, he invited comments from the delegates. A member of his team started by saying the numerous private secondary schools that had been set up in the country were after profit maximization; that they were not honest.
“Take, for example,” he went on, “the school which I will call Chabwekawaka Private Secondary School.”
He went on to point out what its proprietor did to maximise profits while holding classes under dilapidated buildings.
The name Chabwekawaka in Chitumbuka means mere rubbish. In other words, the school which he gave as a sample of private schools was mere rubbish. After listening to the torrent of abuses for about 20 minutes, there was a coffee tea break. I did not take part in the refreshments but simply left for good.
What that man was saying reminded me of the not uncommon prejudice and rudeness to which private owners of educational institutions and their students are subjected by some toplofty officials, especially those concerned about personnel matters. A student who has been awarded a diploma by a private school or an employee of a government department who had studied privately by distance education or at a night school which provides evening classes might learn of a vacancy and apply for the jobs. They present their diploma and they are told verbally or in writing that the government does not recognise diplomas from the school. Alternatively, nowadays, they are told the National Council for Higher Education (Nche) does not recognise diplomas issued by such and such school.
T h e impression such people create is that only students from schools approved by Nche acquire quality education. But is this correct assumption? How do those who give approvals decide? I thought they were guided by the products of the school; how ex-students perform at exams tests or work.
Rejecting an applicant for a job or promotion by prejudgment is a weakness on the part of the decision maker. History is full of geniuses and benefactors of making who were curtly rejected by prejudiced bureaucrats. If someone brings a diploma from an institution not officially recognised, the fair approach is to let that person get interviewed by someone who is an expert in the relevant subjects. Only then can they tell if there is some substance in the diploma.
Behold in the last three or five years, the country has heard of three wonder kids in Malawi. A wonder kid is a person who achieves great success when relatively young. The first in Mulanje built a radio station out of waste material. His action displeased the authority who fined him instead of congratulating him.
The second wonder kid in Kasungu, William Kamkwamba, harnessed the wind guided by what he read in science books just as Thomas Edison used to do. An American wrote his story in book form and his work was highly acclaimed by foreigners but not Malawian officials or professionals.
The second is by Corled Nkosi of Mzimba who made electricity free for 2,000 numbers of his village. He has won Queen Elizabeth II prize. Which of these youths had a diploma approved by Nche before performing these marvels?
Officials have been known to thwart private initiatives when they go about on checking the quality of private schools. About five years ago or so, one agency of the government went about closing private vocational schools – some of which I used to see in the Trade Fair Ground of Blantyre – partly because they were said to have no qualified instructors. But how often have we heard of community day secondary schools staffed by unqualified teachers, some of them with less education than their students, yet the government officials concerned with standards never close such schools. Is there natural justice in this?
In every activity, commercial or state, there are elements of people with doubtful ethics but to assume that everyone operating a private school is only interested in maximising profits not the welfare of their client (the students) is grossly untrue. These officials may wish to be appraised of the writings of Adan Smith, founder of modern economics. He noted that businesspeople normally do good to society in pursuit of private interests. They know that if they do not provide satisfactory service, they will lose business. They provide quality products primarily to please their customers not because they want to conform to government regulations.
Distance institutions all over the world issue diplomas of their own to students for courses which do not lead to public examinations. If government departments do not want to recognise such diplomas, they should set up public examination bodies. If they are not willing to do so, they should stop trying to destroy those who spread educational knowledge. Entry fees to British examination bodies have become too expensive; hence, some students just settle for the diploma their college has given them.
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