New classrooms, new enthusiasm for pupils at Thembe Primary School
By Victor Chinyama
Thembe Primary School has seen better days. Nestled at the foot of Mount Mulanje in southern Malawi, the school was built in 1957, before Malawi as a nation came into existence.
The school’s structures are decrepit, the decayed walls barely disguising the obvious; the school is in dire need of an extreme makeover. More than a thousand pupils attend school here, with each class holding an average of 150 learners.
Inside the Standard One class, 280 pupils sit forlornly crowded on the potholed floor, unable to muster enough legroom, their clothing dirtied by the chocolate brown 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 seven 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 for the school. 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 group-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 school’s head, Mr. Robert Limbani is an elated man. He says 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.”
“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, the school head, feels that the new facilities have improved attendance, especially for girls. His standard 8 class, which will write primary school leaving examinations at the end of the year, is evenly split between boys and girls and Mr. Limbani is optimistic that the improved attendance will lead to better achievement at the end of the year, especially for girls.
“I am looking forward to the school improving its pass rate in the Primary School Examinations as compared to last year,” he says.