Chanco education students statement: On omission for forthcoming University of Malawi graduation

It is with profound sadness that we issue this statement on the graduation of University of Malawi students slated for October 24 this year which conspicuously excludes us, Chancellor College Bachelor of Education students. It is in the interest of justice, fairness, peace, unity, transparency and harmony that we have thought it prudent to jot this statement on behalf of all aggrieved Chancellor College education students on Teaching Practice and sober-minded Malawians. As Chancellor College education students on Teaching Practice, we find silence at this critical moment inconvenient and uncalled for. We believe that silence and inaction in the face of yesterday’s challenges are responsible for the anomalies we see across the education sector in our beloved state.

Our gesture of foresight needs to be construed as a venture aimed at upholding the integrity of UNIMA in the process guarding against all the emerging dictatorial tendencies as is the case in the UNIMA graduation saga. Driven by a patriotic impetus, we object at lobbying a bifocal perspective in the matter – after all it is our constitutional right, and above all, else an exercise of our unequivocal freedom of opinion and expression.

As Chancellor College education students on Teaching Practice we are disillusioned with and disappointed by UNIMA’s management, who act from their cocoons, by sticking to their ‘ill-advised’ plans of holding the UNIMA 2011/2012 graduation which excludes Chancellor College education students on Teaching Practice, who happen to be of the 2011/2012 graduating class, not of 2012/2013 as UNIMA would want us to believe.

For the sake of those who might not be aware of the requirements for the award of a Bachelors degree in education, we will take the burden of providing a brief explanation of what it means to have attained that qualification. It takes four (4) full years for one to accomplish the theoretical part of the degree, plus another three (3) months for the practical part which involves Teaching Practice. This Teaching Practice, which we are currently undertaking, is the most crucial part for final qualification, and the University of Malawi Council is very much aware of this. Our Teaching Practice started on 17 September and it is running up to 7 December, and this categorically implies that we are not going to graduate on 24 October when our colleagues with whom we were admitted together will be graduating.

Unima Council, the body that is responsible for organizing graduation ceremonies, issued a press release in the media recently to make it known to the public that this year’s ceremony will be held on October 24. The circular is clear enough on Council’s position regarding education students who are on Teaching Practice now: we are missing on the list of prospective graduands. We feel that this smacks of segregation and lack of professionalism on the part of the university management.

We are mindful of the fact that the ceremony is long overdue, but we feel that the decision to hold it should have been reached at after extensive consultation considering the fact that Unima constituent colleges have inconsistent calendars which create problems when it comes to organizing graduation ceremonies. In fact, we are told that even the Faculty of Education at Chancellor College was not consulted on the graduation issue despite the fact that it is the largest at the Zomba institution.

We have no intention to frustrate Council’s decision to confer the prestigious qualifications on October 24 to those that deserve them. These are men and women who perfectly engineered and calculated their way into their respective institutions of higher learning and deserve to get their papers the soonest, but we also appreciate the fact that there are irregularities that continue rocking University of Malawi constituent colleges’ calendars. These irregularities cannot be solved by the exclusion options; rather, it is when all Unima faculties hold their graduation together that the irregularities can be partially solved.

The University Council has a number of reasons for excluding education students who are on TP from the ceremony. It even has reasons for not consulting relevant stakeholders in the whole process. Council acknowledges the fact that Chancellor College education students take longer than merely four academic years to finish their studies. To this prestigious higher education governing body, that is the more reason education students should not graduate together with their colleagues with whom they were admitted together.

Because of the ‘extra’ three months which education students add to their four years of theory lessons, it was only by coincidence that previously they graduated together with their colleagues who pursued different programmes, states Council. The observation seems attractive but it ignores a number of factors which we are going to address in this piece. In essence, the observation implies that in the absence of the coincidence, education students from Chancellor College were normally supposed to have their graduation ceremony a year or so after their counterparts in other faculties’ graduation.

Council goes a mile further by arguing that education students from Chancellor College were not consulted or communicated to regarding the ceremony because they have not yet finished their studies. In other words, we will be told of the graduation which will take place next year, probably October, if all factors remain constant, because we all know it is hard to predict the progress of Unima calendars where a four year programme can be finished in six years. In fact, this is one of the reasons which have prompted us to seek redress from relevant authorities. If we do not graduate this year, we can never be sure of when we will; it may be next year, the year after next, or even three years from now. You can never have ultimate trust in Unima calendars.

We are told that management of Chancellor College does not have any say on whether we may have our graduation ceremony soon after our Teaching Practice when our results are ready. This means that the only option we have is to graduate in the distant future, a future we can neither calculate nor predict. In other words, if we do not have our graduation ceremony this year or any time soon, we may not be sure of when we will. The most painful thing is that there is very little hope that we may hold our ‘own’ graduation, meaning we will not be able to access our formal degrees since the degrees are signed by the chancellor of the university, and it is difficult for the chancellor to sign them for only a group of students. Again, the only available alternative is the distant future which we can never be sure of.

Being people who believe that dialogue is an imperative step in resolving possible disagreements, we tried to engage some relevant authorities to whom our concerns were submitted. Our representatives had an audience with the Vice Principal of Chancellor College, three college registrars and the Dean of Education where the arguments stated above were given. We take the arguments as Council’s because the meeting was chaired by the college Vice Principal who, by virtue of his position, is a member of the university management.

Even though we appreciate the fact that accomplishing an education degree takes ‘longer’, we want to remind the public that the Faculty of Education is a Unima faculty and, therefore, it should not be segregated in any way. Leaving it behind regarding the graduation ceremony on the pretence that it was a mere coincidence that it was included in the past collective congregations, smacks of lack of professionalism and discrimination on the part of the university management.

We do not need to overemphasise the point that graduation ceremony is a very important event that should not be taken lightly by the authorities. In fact, it is a prestigious event which has more meaning if we do it together. It is really out of order that we should be unceremoniously made to wait for more than a year when we can simply wait for two months or so.

We are cognizant of the fact that, in large part, the irregularities are coming about due to the academic freedom stalemate – which we don’t want to be reminded of – but we must categorically state that we are in no way responsible for the delay in fishing our studies. We don’t want to remind the nation that it was the very same university council that stalled our progress by very unprincipled decisions it made during the saga. Our option is that our graduation ceremony could be held soon after our TP so that we could do it together with our colleagues from Bunda College who finished their academic year last week on 5 October who, obviously, will not be able to have their ceremony on 24 October. A better alternative could be postponing the ceremony to a later date so that it incorporates us and Bunda college students. In fact, it is our prayer that the ceremony will be shifted to a later date so that no one feels discriminated against.

As Chancellor College education students, we strongly feel that there is no need to rush with the ceremony. Of course, we really spare our time to think about our Polytechnic colleagues who have been waiting for the ceremony for a number of months, but the waiting itself means that they could not hold the ceremony on their own. They had to wait for their colleagues in other Unima colleges because it is important to hold the ceremony together. If Council is rushing the ceremony because they want it to be done before rains begin, we feel no one knows if there will be no rain on 24 October. In essence all precautionary measures which will be put in place on 24 October may also be there if the ceremony is postponed.

There are many reasons which compel us to believe that the decision to exclude us from this year’s ceremony is undue. It must have been reached at without enough consultation and it is our hope that this statement will create some food for thought for the university management so that they will postpone the ceremony to a later date that will be able to accommodate us and even our colleagues from Bunda who have just finished their studies, but are waiting for the results.

We stand together and vow to never slip away from objectivity, rationality and intellectualism as we advance our cause. We recommit ourselves to doing everything possible at our disposal to prevent the bad precedence of letting ego-aggrandizement rule over objectivity. It is our prayer that the blessings of wisdom shower upon our beloved state. Wisdom supersedes power in arguing out intellectual ambiguities and shows itself in Godly judgment that brings peace.

On behalf of the aggrieved Chancellor College Education Students on Teaching Practice (2011/2012):

Nike Nsamba, Edison Njembe, Chisomo Msadala, Ananiya Alick Ponje, Makhumbo R. Munthali and Heather Maseko

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