|© UNICEF Malawi/2008|
|UNICEF has built new classrooms for the students at Thembe Primary School in Malawi. The new rooms replace old, sub-standard facilities that made learning difficult.|
By Victor Chinyama
MULANJE, Malawi, 21 August 2008 — Thembe Primary School has seen better days. Nestled at the foot of Mount Mulanje in southern Malawi, the school was built in 1957, before the country gained independence.
The school’s buildings are decrepit, the decayed walls barely disguising the obvious: a school in dire need of an extreme makeover. More than 1,000 pupils attend classes here, with each class holding an average of 150 students.
Learning is difficult
Inside the Standard One class, 280 pupils sit crowded together on a potholed floor without enough legroom, their clothing dirtied by the earth. There is no door and the windows are gaping holes that make learning all but impossible in the winter and rainy seasons.
Ellaton Gawani, the teacher, does his best to liven up the atmosphere, but he privately acknowledges that these children, aged between 7 and 10, deserve better.
“Sitting on the floor makes learning difficult for these children,” he says. “Their concentration is not 100 per cent and they are always preoccupied with keeping their clothes and books clean.”
A new era, however, is about to dawn. Next to the old classrooms are two shiny blocks of four classrooms being built by UNICEF, with funding from the Schools for Africa Initiative. Construction is nearing completion, with first and second graders soon expected to take up the spaces.
“The new classrooms have cement floors, are well ventilated and have enough space for effective work,” says Gawani. “With a lockable door, I’ll be able to leave teaching materials on the walls without worrying that they’ll be stolen.”
The headmaster, Robert Limbani, is elated and believes the new classrooms will improve learning and facilitate better interaction between the pupils and teachers.
“My dream is to see this school become a model of excellent teaching and learning,” he says. “What UNICEF has done is good for the children and the teachers – not only for now, but for many more years to come.”
In addition to the new classrooms, UNICEF has constructed 10 sturdy new latrines. The floors of the old latrines were made of creaky eucalyptus timber that posed immense risks.
“We were always afraid of falling into the pit,” says eighth-grader Fred Livala. “The foundations of the new toilets are stronger, as they are made of cement. We now also have water to wash our hands after using the toilet.”
Mr. Limbani says the new facilities have improved attendance, especially for girls. His Standard Eight class, which will sit examinations at the end of the year, is evenly split between boys and girls. Mr. Limbani is optimistic that the improved attendance will lead to higher academic achievements.
“I am looking forward to the school improving its pass rate in the Primary School Examinations as compared to last year,” he says.