Poor accommodation is such a nuisance in local schools that, in some public schools, learners are packed like sardines and sleep on the floor, thereby undermining their performance in class. This also puts them at risk of contracting diseases. Lilongwe’s Dzenza Secondary School—as CHIMWEMWE MANGAZI sheds light in this Friday Shaker—is a model of how poor accommodation runs counter to the very essence of a boarding school.
Imagine a dark, cold morning that makes getting out of bed so hard at dusk that, instead, you even pull your warm duvet over the head.
Imagine on that particular morning, a 15-year-old form three student waking up from the remains of a mattress that has been used for years, way beyond its lifetime, on the floor of a corridor of some hostel in a government school.
And as the harsh reality of life strikes this student, he is expected to attend classes, concentrate and score grades that would earn him a place in the country’s public universities, despite that some of his counterparts are in well resourced private schools.
That is the ordeal students at Dzenza Secondary School in Area 25, Lilongwe, are putting up with since two of the boys’ hostels were razed down by fire four years ago.
The school’s enrollment is 560, of which 374 are boys and the rest girls. The boys share four hostels of 12 rooms each, translating to 48 rooms.
One of the students at the school, who spoke on condition of anonymity, narrates that the situation is pathetic.
He says, in some cases, nine students share accommodation in a room that is supposed to accommodate four learners.
“The situation is bad. We can easily contract skin diseases because we share a bed with some students who bed-wet. This is affecting our concentration on education because you can’t even have enough rest when two people share a bed,” he said.
The school’s headteacher, Charles Kaitoni, admits that some students sleep on the floor at the school, but says they [students] are not more than 10.
He says, since the hostels were razed down by fire, the government has been making empty promises to have them fixed and ease overcrowding.
“This school is 36 years old and most of the structures are on their last legs. As if that is not enough, we have this overcrowding problem. It is true that there are some students that sleep on the floor but they are not more than 10. It is all because hostels were destroyed by the fire,” Kaiton says.
Ntchisi Secondary School has been facing a similar problem from the time it was changed from a boys’ school to accommodate both sexes.
The school has struggled with overcrowding, especially when it comes to accommodating girls.
Currently, over 100 female students stay in makeshift hostels that were initially meant for classrooms, a situation that is not conducive to learning.
In an earlier interview which he gave when the alumni association donated mattresses and books to the school, Ntchisi Secondary School headteacher, Sherif Phiri, said the school has an enrollment capacity of 320, half of which are supposed to be girls.
However, accommodating 50 percent of girls at the school remains a far-fetched dream due to the problem of inadequate hostels.
“We have only 100 female students at this school instead of 160 because we do not have hostels to accommodate them; so, we take at least 20 students from each form. It is the Parents Teachers Association that, in the meantime, made arrangements that the girls should be accommodated in a classroom,” Phiri says.
Civil Society Education Coalition Executive Director, Benedicto Kondowe, notes that the problems which Dzenza and Ntchisi secondary schools face are common across the country, especially in government institutions.
He says his organisation established that students at Chitipa, Mulunguzi Boys and Rumphi Boys secondary schools also face challenges with accommodation.
“The case at Dzenza explains a horrible environment in which students live. At the end of the day, this may not aid effective learning. Such an environment is what I describe as a push factor; not a worthwhile experience in a learning institution.
“The Dzenza case is just a drop in the ocean, but it explains that most of our schools are in such a crisis. These are old schools. Even when it comes to sanitary facilities, they are extremely horrible,” Kondowe says.
“We have known these problems for a long time but the government is not putting greater effort to see to it that such problems are alleviated progressively. I am cognizant of the fact that they cannot solve these issues all at once but, if we have a clear agenda of dealing with such issues progressively, we should deal with it.”
Section 5(1) of the Education Act of 2012 stipulates that the purpose of education in Malawi shall be to equip students with knowledge, skills and values so as to make them self-reliant and contribute to national development.
However, such a goal cannot be achieved if learners are subjected to such conditions in schools such as Ntchisi and Dzenza.
Such environment lowers self-esteem of students.
Education, Science and Technology Minister, Bright Msasa, referred The Daily Times to the ministry’s principal secretary Justin Saidi and chief director Thokozile Banda.
Saidi asked for more time before providing a response.
Whatever the case, Malawi needs to up its efforts in ensuring that delivery of education should be at a level that facilitates learning.