Madaliso Mwatitha, 13, dreams of becoming a nurse when she finishes her education. She wants to serve in her community, which faces a huge shortage of health workers.
But for her to get there is not easy. It is practically a long and difficult journey.
Having already endured eight years of walking a one-way six-kilometer journey during her primary education, Mwatitha hoped for the best in the next stage.
“I was hoping for a selection to either Salima or Chipoka Secondary School but the dream never happened,” says a dejected Mwatitha, now a form one learner at Kaphirintiwa Community Day Secondary School (CDSS).
Her desire for conventional secondary schools was inspired by the provision of boarding facilities, which meant doing away with walking long distances to school.
The eight years of walking a six-kilometre distance to Katitima Primary School were enough for her.
As she was sitting for her Primary School Leaving Certificate Exams (PSLCE) in 2017, Mwatitha was hopeful that the long walks were finally coming to end.
But her selection to Kaphirintiwa CDSS in the area of Traditional Authority Khombedza in Salima wiped out that dream.
Not only did it mean continuing walking long distances to school, it also meant adding more miles to that torturous journey.
Kaphirintiwa CDSS lies 10 kilometres away for Mwatitha’s home village. That means she covers a 20 kilometre journey to and from school.
Mwatitha is deeply troubled because the same challenge that haunted her school performance is still sticking around.
Her failure to perform better in primary school was largely due to many elements associated with the long distance. Now she fears for the same at secondary level and feels that her dreams and chances of going to any college of nursing are in jeopardy.
“If my parents were not poor, I could have turned down the offer to Kaphirintiwa CDSS and go a private school,” says Mwatitha. But she does not have that choice.
The reality is that she is trapped in this problem for good. It is a challenge that starts to bite as early as 4:30 am every day when she starts preparing for school.
“When I am walking, I usually leave home around 5 am or 30 minutes later when a bicycle is available. I have to be at school before 7am,” says Mwatitha.
But the long distance is always taking a toll on her education because she is always late for classes. When she is on time, she is usually too tired to be attentive and focused on the lessons.
Pilirani Phiri is another learner at Kaphirintiwa CDSS facing the same challenge. She walks a total distance of 12 kms from her home to school. She says long distances to schools puts learners like her at disadvantage when it comes to performance and competition in class.
“Those within a reasonable distance to school have all the energy and time to do better. They are always fresh while some have their energy sucked out of them, even before stepping out of the house because of the mere thought of distance to be covered,” says Phiri.
She adds that some learners have the privilege of cycling to school but those with no bicycle in their households, attaining education while walking long distances to school is a painful experience.
Group village head Guwenda, whose area is home to Kaphirintiwa CDSS, says many children, especially girls, are failing to complete secondary school because of long distance.
“Many of them end dropping out and rush for early marriages,” the chief says.
Chief Guwenda adds that as community leaders, they encourage parents who can afford to own a bicycle or motorbikes to assist in investing in the mobility of their children to school.
Head teacher for Kaphirintiwa CDSS Ernest Katuku acknowledges that long distance to school is a major challenge to attainment of education by most children especially girls in the area.
“The school’s catchment area covers a radius of more than 30 Kilometers, meaning that the majority of students walk a long distance to get here,” Katuku says.
He adds that although the school offers a self-boarding facility for the girls as an alternative, very few utilize the facility because the majority of households have limited financial resources.
With a total of 157 primary schools producing close to 10000 learners to the level education, the available secondary schools in Salima are not enough to absorb such staggering figures of leaners.
Currently, the district has two conventional secondary schools, 16 approved CDSS’s and eight approved private secondary schools.
District Education Manager (DEM) for Salima, Christopher Kumikundi believes that construction of more structures such as CDSS’s would help to reduce the problem of long distance and congestion in schools.
“We need to establish more schools within reasonable distances. This is not the duty of government alone, communities can also initiate school projects on their own if they see the need to,” says Kumikundi.
He adds that the education policy empowers communities have to construct school structures with certification and approval from the DEM’s office.
But without the availability of enough structures within short distances, the potential benefits of school will always be difficult to attain for learners like Madaliso Mwatitha who remain committed to meet their dreams.
“Schooling life is not pleasant for us who walk long distances. But there is nothing we can do, we want the education so we have to live with that,” Mwatitha says.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :