Minister meets Bunda staff, avoids students

Malawi’s Minister of Education, Science and Technology George Chaponda systematically avoided hearing out Bunda College of Agriculture students when on Wednesday he made an impromptu visit to the school apparently to see for himself the concerns raised after the students were subjected to learn in a tent following space problems.

 Some of the students including the Bunda College Students Union (BCSU) had raised concerns on the unpalatable and deplorable condition of learning in the tent but instead of visiting the school while the students were on campus Chaponda chose to go after the students had left for holidays.

 The students left on Friday March 16, 2012 for their end of semester holiday.

 Some of the students interviewed laughed off the visit saying it did not help matters since the Minister was supposed to actually see how the students are coping up with the situation and hear them instead of meeting only management of the college.

Kwapata: Challenges of student overpopulation

 “We just heard that he went on Wednesday and met management. That is absurd because he has only heard one side of the story. In fact it is the same management which brought the tent and could not be objective enough in their briefing to the minister,” said one of the students.

 He said it was sad that they are informed that the principle of the college Professor Moses Kwapata told Chaponda that students have not complained about the tent.

 “This is a lie because we know our union had raised concerns and Kwapata could have been honest enough to tell the minister those concerns. The question is why did he choose to come while we are away? It just shows that this government is not serious in whatever it does,” he added.

Recently both Bunda College Students Union (BCSU) and University of Malawi Students Union (Umsu) leaders expressed concern over the development.

 BCSU president Fraction Mphwitiko said using the tent has almost turned students into soldiers waiting for a war.

 “The situation is pathetic. Just imagine second year students used it to take examinations and after three hours, most of them complained of eye problems. The first year students spend almost three hours in the tent daily and we do not know what will happen after a year,” Mphwitiko was quoted in The Nation as saying.

 According to Mphwitiko, the union complained to college management about the situation.

 Newly elected University of Malawi Students Union (Umsu) president Noah Mtiza also said they discussed the Bunda challenges with college management.

 Some of the first year students were quoted saying most of them and their lecturers complain about learning in the tent as it does not provide a good environment for studies since it is hot inside and has poor visibility and hearing.

 During the visit Chaponda toured the tent, an undergraduate computer laboratory, the college’s hall, a library and met heads of departments, professors and associate professors.

 Chaponda told both management and lecturers that the tent was a temporary arrangement until better infrastructures are put in place.

 “This is the best we could do to respond to the increased intake,” he said.

 Briefing the minister Principle of the college Professor Moses Kwapata said the tent was initiated as one of the seven strategies to deal with the increasing number of students.

 Bunda college, which was formerly under the University of Malawi, has a total of 2,000 students against a capacity of 730. Almost half of these students are in the first year.

 The College is now under the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources which will also take on board the Natural Resources College (NRC), the Chitedze Research Station and the Agriculture Research Trust (Aret).

 Kwapata said among several other strategies to solve space problems the college has renovated one of the store rooms into a computer lab; introduced double deck beds; three boreholes have also been constructed to increase water supply; and the school has also acquired a generator to deal with increased power supply needs.

 He also said the college has introduced a double stream teaching time-table for first year students; cluster teaching where lecturers with similar disciplines backgrounds share teaching and laboratory periods; and post-graduate students’ tutorial assistance where post-graduate students provide help to lecturers.

 Kwapata admitted that it was a challenge for the college to have an increased number of students.

 “The challenges are many. These challenges will be worse with next academic year’s intake. We appeal to your urgent help to address them,” he said.

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