Malawi’s ruling PP urged to stop using learners as political pawns

Representatives of the Civil Society Education Coalition (CSEC) in Malawi are condemning in strongest terms the conduct of government of forcing school children and their teachers to patronize state and the ruling party’s functions.

CSEC is an alliance of over 81 local and international nongovernmental organizations that have voluntarily come together in pursuit of quality education in Malawi.

The organization’s board chairperson Mac Bain Mkandawire and its executive director Benedicto Kondowe made the condemnation in a statement made available to Nyasa Times.

“It has come to our attention that the current State functions in Lunzu and Chirimba in Blantyre, Mponela in Dowa, Liwonde in Machinga and Thyolo have been characterized by patronage of pupils at times that they were supposed to be in class,” reads the statement.

It says research by the organization has revealed that the launch of blood transfusion week presided by President Joyce  Banda at Lunzu Primary School in Blantyre on 21 November 2012 disrupted classes as the event was done around noon when learners were supposed to be in class.

MacBen Mkandawire: Condemn use of pupils in political functions

“A similar situation happened on the same day at Chirimba where the President was distributing maize flour (to the needy).”

The organization has also cited a situation that happened on 4th December 2012, where pupils from surrounding schools in Liwonde were directed to patronize the inauguration of the Liwonde Lodge.

“In case of Liwonde function, we have information that teachers for the affected schools too abandoned their job for fear of reprisals from government and the ruling party”.

It also says during the installation of Senior Chief Dzoole on Thursday, 29th November 2012, scores of pupils from Senga and Aimalandiwo primary schools were scorched in the sun as they lined up along the road as early as 9 o’clock waiting for the President to pass whose schedule was for 11 o’clock.

“In this particular event, we have reports that teachers and pupils abandoned classes for the function as it was held right at Dzoole primary school.”

Mkandawire and Kondowe say use of pupils in state functions under the current administration continues to take the same path of its predecessor against the prevailing poor standards of education in the country.

 

“In most cases, the leadership has implicitly condoned the practice as no caution has been made against the practice even where pupils clad in their school uniform have patronized these functions”.

They say that they have observed that most of the events that the current administration is involving pupils are neither academic nor education related events warranting pupils and teachers to abandon classes.

“We, in the Coalition, believe that pupils can only participate in significant national events where they don’t have to abandon classes. However, the current arrangement grossly undermines the interests of both the learners who ought to be protected in as far as education provision is concerned.

“We become deeply concerned where such events are deliberately organized at or around the schools during the week days taking full cognizance of the fact that they have the potential to disrupt classes. The loss of time in these instances is enormous and not recoupable, and begs us to question whether the authorities and indeed organizers have the interest of the child at heart.”

Reports from SADC region show that standards of education are getting lower and lower, and that the current meager pass rates speak it all about the state of play in the education sector.

For example the 2011 Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ) report for SADC places Malawi at the bottom in reading and second from last in arithmetic and numeracy.

“This is why we find the perpetual use of pupils in state functions as unfortunate and a great disservice to the nation.  These trends beg us to question whether the authorities and government practically value education, and indeed whether they learn from mistakes of their predecessors.

“Notwithstanding the preceding, we further believe that no responsible authority can afford to deprive learners of their right to learn at a time that their performances are already poor.

The statement also says  the use of pupils in such events at the expense of their education only confirms that the government of the day is failing to uphold its Constitution, particularly the protection of rights of children in the context of national and international standards.

They are therefore calling upon government to unequivocally condemn what they describe as ‘insensitive and retrogressive’ practice and take steps by conducting such state functions away from the schools.

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