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Schools for Africa Initiative backs new school block to change lives of pupils in Malawi

© UNICEF Malawi/2008
Pupils study beneath a tree at Miteme Junior Primary School in Khonthi village, Malawi.

By Kusali Kubwalo

LILONGWE, Malawi, 6 October 2008 – From a distance, Miteme Junior Primary School looks like a marketplace with vendors in school uniform. On close inspection, one realizes this is a school without a single classroom. Classes one to five are all held under trees; only class five has desks.

As the school has four teachers to cover five classes, one class is always left to roam about aimlessly. Efforts to enforce discipline and ensure that the pupils sit quietly under a tree do not seem to work, and the head teacher has given up.

“The environment is not conducive,” says headmaster Widow Mazengera. “Most pupils would rather just stay at home than come here and sit on the floor.”

Shutdown in rainy season

The Miteme school is located in Khonthi, a village on the plains of Lilongwe, where most families earn a living from farming and would rather have the children help on the farm than go to school. Although the school has over 520 registered pupils, the daily average attendance is just over 100. In the rainy season, school shuts down for at least three months until it’s dry again.

“During this period, we lose a lot of pupils. Most drop out and do not return to school. Or when they do, it’s not to learn but to play with their friends,” the headmaster complains.

The school does not have a single water point. Children have to go back home for a drink of water. At that point, most just leave for the day.

Schools for Africa improves quality

There is hope, though. Under the Schools for Africa Initiative, UNICEF plans to build a school block and some toilets for the young students here.

“The idea is to make this school child-friendly so that children can be motivated to stay in school,” explains UNICEF Malawi Education Specialist Catherine Chirwa.

The child-friendly school (CFS) model is a framework to achieve quality in education in an integrated and holistic manner. It aims to translate the rights enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child into classroom practice and school management.

Right to education

To achieve this, the CFS model promotes quality education; encourages the provision of healthy and protective environments for learning; and provides a safe environment for children who are orphaned and made vulnerable by poverty, violence, and HIV and AIDS.

Quality education for all children is a major priority for UNICEF. To help countries get onto the right path, UNICEF will launch the ‘Child-Friendly School Manual’ this year. The manual is a practical guidebook designed to help countries design and implement child-friendly schools that are most appropriate to their circumstances.

Once Miteme becomes a child-friendly school, UNICEF hopes pupils from Khonthi village will finally enjoy their right to a quality education.



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