UNICEF helps to improve primary education in Malawi
By Victor Chinyama
Eight year-old Maureen Kalulu is like any other child her age. She is active, loves to play touch and go, and dreams of becoming a typist when she grows up.
In another respect however, Maureen is unlike other eight year-olds. The third grader at South Lunzu Primary School in Blantyre, southern Malawi has no classroom she can call her own. Instead, she and her class learn under a tree.
“Our clothes get dirty all the time,” she says. “We get rained on, the cold is unbearable, and it is impossible to concentrate with the noisy traffic passing nearby.”
Maureen lives with her grandmother and two of her siblings. Her parents live and work in Nsanje, one of Malawi’s poorest districts situated on the southern tip of Malawi. Maureen says her parents left her in Blantyre in the hope that she can get a better education.
Built in 1952 and nestled at the foot of Mount Ndirande, the School is a decrepit, weather-beaten, old-fashioned structure that is home to more than 2,300 pupils. Huge cracks pepper the decaying walls and the floors are contoured by large gaping holes, attesting to decades of dereliction.
On the far eastern side of the school compound, almost hidden from view, lies a two-classroom block housing Standard 5 pupils. The block is separated from the imposing Mount Ndirande by a small brook and every so often, the incoming easterly wind brings a cold chill into the windowless classrooms, sending the pupils into uncontrollable shivers.
The pupils sit on the cold floor. The walls are ringed by a large crack that worries the headteacher, Mrs. Esther Pondelani. She says she is torn between keeping the pupils in the classrooms and taking them out to learn under trees. Nor are her problems limited to the crumbling physical infrastructure.
Overcrowding, insufficient desks, and inadequate staff housing are other problems that preoccupy her mind. Fortunately for her, UNICEF recently built two classroom blocks with funding from the Schools for Africa Initiative, thereby easing some of the congestion. The blocks accommodate 170 Standard Eight pupils.
“We need more classroom blocks,” says eighth grade teacher Mrs. Jane Matuwisa. “We also need desks and chairs for the pupils who are sitting on the floor. I don’t feel comfortable teaching in such an environment.”
Maureen says she only dreams of the day when she will be able to learn in a classroom. With the Schools for Africa Initiative mobilising funding for the construction of classrooms and with other donors embarking on similar initiatives, that day may not be too far off.