About 57 students are packed in a grass-thatched shed with some sitting on desks, while others are seated on hard benches at Tsekwere Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) in Senior Chief Nankumba in Mangochi West Constituency, 114 kilometres (km) from the boma.
The students are listening to two different teachers standing on opposite ends. The shed is accommodating Form One and Three students, but without any demarcation.
It needs one’s closer look to notice that what separates the two classes is a pole at the middle where Form One and Three students sit back to back.
Standing at one end of the shed, one would clearly hear what the teacher on the opposite end is teaching.
“The learning environment here is not conducive and the road to achieve my goal is very rough. We are always disturbed by the learning and teaching process by our colleagues this side because we hear everything from the other class,” says 44-year-old Dalesi Magali Mnungama, a Form One student whose dream is to become a medical doctor.
She regrets the day she was selected to the school from Kaphirimtiwa Primary School which is about 10 km from the CDSS.
“When I heard that I have been selected here, I wanted to quit school. From the time I returned to school in Standard Five to the time I sat for my Standard Eight examinations, I had been learning in good classrooms without disturbances. However, the case is different here,” says the mother of seven who was inspired by women managers through radios to go back to school.
Sharing Mnungama’s sentiments is 20-year-old Joseph Mmaneni who is in Form Three.
He believes the school’s status is an indication that government neglects education in rural areas; hence, poor performance in Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations.
“I believe this is one of the contributing factors the school under-performs during MSCE examination. To be honest, I am still here at Tsekwere because I come from a poor family and my parents cannot afford to send me to a private school,” explains Mmaneni who dreams of becoming an engineer.
The 2030 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 states that all countries, including Malawi, should ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunity for all.
However, Tsekwere CDSS head teacher Matias Mosiwa says the current teaching and learning environment at the school—which only has six teachers and a dilapidated classroom block is not in line with SDG 4.
He adds that the environment contributes to students dropout and poor performance during MSCE examinations such that only 19 students 13 males and six females sat for the exams this year.
Out of that number, only five a female and four males passed.
“Since its inception in 2001, government has been selecting 60 Form One learners to this school. However, due to the environment, many students dropout while some quit and go to private schools. As we are talking, out of 60 Form One students who were selected here this year, we are remaining with 37,” says Mosiwa.
He says teachers at the school which is about 19 km from Kasinje in Ntcheu and about 37 km from Golomoti in Dedza tried to construct a classroom block which is at roofing level.
Mosiwa says government is aware of the school’s status as South East education division manager Mcauden Msakatiza inspected the school in June.
“This incomplete block was constructed last year using our subvention fund which was supposed to be used for buying teaching materials such as chalk. We were hoping that well-wishers will come in to help us with roofing. However, it is now close to two years, but no one is willing to rescue us. We are still here just because we are patriotic and we love our job,” explains the head teacher while showing the reporter the stalled classroom block constructed without cement.
When contacted last week, Msakatiza confirmed inspecting the public school which currently has 119 students and acknowledged that it is facing numerous challenges.
“I have visited the school. I know the problems they are facing and the Ministry [of Education Science and Technology] is also aware and it would want to put up a structure. Their challenges are multiple which is true with other schools as well. But the critical situation in this area is Tsekwere,” he said.
On the contrary, Ministry of Education Principal Secretary Justin Saidi expressed ignorance of the school and its status. He asked the reporter for more time to find out about it.
On his part, Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec) executive director Benedicto Kondowe expressed shock over the status of Tsekwere CDSS saying the situation is not acceptable in the 21st Century.
He said government should not have accepted the school to operate because it contributes toward poor education standards in the country.
Said Kondowe: “The right to education is being breached by the very institution that ought to defend it. The theme of the Sustainable Development Goals is leave no one behind, meaning that any child who deserves to be in school should be provided an opportunity to be at school.
“But If you look at that scenario where two classes are sharing the same room, they are already being left behind and by doing that it means government is failing to live up to the global commitment which Malawi made.”
He noted that there is a need for government to start paying particular attention to CDSSs’ because they are where poorest Malawians go and the institutions are their only hope.