As Malawi educational performance is continually ranked at the foot within the Southern African region, the situation is even worse in the country’s isolated southern district of Neno. In the recent released public university selection, Neno’s public schools have performed miserably, sending only one student to the university.
Poor performance of the district’ public schools is reflected also in the last results of Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations, which saw Chiwale Day Secondary School, which is said to accommodate the cream of the district, having a student with 22 points as the highest. The situation, in its very nature, may prompt the community and other stakeholders to hold teachers responsible and blame them for the setback.
However, a snap survey, conducted by Nyasa Times in the district reveals there is more than what meets the eye.
“It’s indeed true that performance of students has been deplorable. In our case, we may attribute it to lack of resources and understaffing. Suffice to say that, parents are also lacking responsibility for their children because many students seem not to have ambitions.
“I am of the view that, stringent and regular supervision to monitor the students’ academic progress by the parents in collaboration with teachers would bring sanity among the students hence improving the performance,” said one of the teachers at Ligowe Community Day Secondary School.
While blaming the students for being lazy, Patricia Matemba, speaking to this reporter proposed massive education campaign awareness in the district.
“Neno is a rural district, where many people especially parents are yet to know the benefits of education. It is my belief though not all the times, that students’ performance is directly linked to parents or guardians support but that is not the case in our district. Parents do not take education of their children seriously.
“I feel like education campaign awareness would do us better as many parents will understand the importance of education. With that, they will have the vigour to encourage their children to work hard in class,” said Kapalamula.
In his response to questionnaire sent by Nyasa Times on the same, education activist Benedicto Kondowe, who is also executive director of Civil Society Education Coalition (CSEC), blamed the district poor performance on the government’s lack of political will.
“While the performance of Neno for the just released selection is unfortunate and a serious source of concern, the results reflect the political education commitment of the leaders we have had in this country.
“While quota system continues to be politically advanced, our leaders have been short-sighted in their policy direction in that they have failed to address the root causes of poor performance of some of the districts. This, as we have argued before as an organization, vindicates our claim that quota on its own is the remedy for the poor performance of some districts,” he said.
Kondowe also trashed government for not constructing a boarding secondary school for Neno even after its elevation into a district while at the same time they were able to construct additional boarding secondary school for Chiradzulu district.
“To make the matter worse, since its elevation into a district, it has only been Neno and Machinga districts that have had no boarding secondary schools in Malawi despite government’s policy that every district should at least have one conventional boarding secondary school. As of last year, Government approved boarding secondary school for Machinga district and additional boarding secondary school [Thumbwe secondary school] for Chiradzulu district while nothing was considered for Neno despite being worse disadvantaged than all the other districts.
“This, as I have alluded to earlier, suggests that Neno still remains politically alluded in major drivers of development. Even primary schools for the districts are poorly resourced than most districts in the country. To this effect, it is not surprising that the district continues to perform poorly not only in university selection but also in other examinations,” he said.
Despite the poor performance, Nyasa Times discovered that some students mostly girls enjoys massive support from Partners In Health (PIH) and Campaign for Female Education (Camfed). The two non –governmental organizations render unwavering support to the female students.
However, in a random interview, teachers and some people in the district blamed the organizations for being superfluous arguing they lack close supervision and monitoring of the students’ academic performance.
“I can confirm that girls here are well supported by Camfed. They are given school fees, school shoe, and stationery every term but the girls still perform poorly. In my own opinion and observation, I feel there is lack of supervision and monitoring of the students’ academic performance by the organization.
“The organization should mount pressure on the beneficiaries so that they strive for good grades in class. If they continue providing their resources to the students without closely checking their performance regularly, their support will not produce the desired results as it is the case now,” said one of the teachers at Chiwale Secondary School who chose to speak on condition of anonymity.
The teacher’s sentiments were supported by information which Nyasa Times discovered at Chikonde Community Day Secondary School where over 15 beneficiaries of the facility dropped out of school due to early pregnancies within a space of two terms.
“The problem is that girls take the support they get from the organization for granted. Instead of making good use of it, by working hard in class to impress the donor, they start boasting and exhibit strange behaviours.
“We also have cases whereby the girls become disobedient to their parents once they start getting support from the organization. As a result they don’t proceed with school because discipline matters in every endeavour,” said Atupele Khembo who is a mentor at Chikonde CDSS.
On how best the district can overcome the disastrous academic situation facing the district, Kondowe suggests that the solution lies at Kamuzu Palace arguing the district is being victimized by lack of political will.
“The situation of Neno education wise calls for special attention to mitigate the challenges. The situation in the district requires proper political attention by our leaders to ensure that the district is provided with facilities and services befitting the district. Government needs to allocate at least one conventional boarding secondary school for the district.
“It is unacceptable that Neno should be the only district without such a provision yet government allocated another boarding secondary school to Chiradzulu district despite already having one just like other districts.
“There is also need to look at social factors that impede progress in education such as social cultural and economic challenges, and step up effort to address them. Government has to resource the schools right from primary to secondary and ensure that qualified teachers are deployed in the district,” Kondowe suggested.
He also said that government should complement NGOs’ efforts to sensitize the communities to support education.
“Government needs to work with NGOs to mobilize the communities to support education. Considering that resources are sometimes scarce, Government needs to encourage the private sector to support the district. In order to show its commitment, government needs to mobilize the political support for the district in order to address some of the education challenges that the district is faced with. The current secondary education provision for the district through only CDSS is not conducive for a girl child,” he said.
Neno is the only district without a boarding secondary school. The situation poses a challenge for girls and even boys as they travel long distances to access education. Other girls opt for self boarding, a thing which has led to some of them indulging in sexual behaviours to make ends meet which result in teenage pregnancies, early marriages and an increase in poverty level.
Statistics show that 50 girls dropped out of school in 2013 due to teenage pregnancies and early marriages.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :