Block by block, UNICEF improves primary education in Malawi
By Victor Chinyama
Eleven year-old Lucy Thumba does not like coming to school. The structure she and 83 other Standard Eight pupils call class is nothing more than an old, weather-beaten structure that has seen better days.
Situated at the foot of Mount Ndirande in Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial capital, Lucy’s South Lunzu Primary School is an interesting mix of the old and the new. Eight of the school’s 10 classroom blocks were built in 1952, 12 years before Malawi’s independence. Huge cracks pepper the decrepit walls and the floors are contoured by large gaping holes, attesting to decades of dereliction and decay.
“What bothers me in my class is the dust,” says Lucy. “The blackboard is not good. It is difficult to erase previous writings, making it impossible for me to see what the teacher is writing.”
Her teacher Mrs. Jane Matuwisa agrees. She says legibility is such a serious problem that she has had to employ drastic measures, such as using sweet potato leaves as erasers.
“This only one of many problems pupils in my class face. The classroom is also so small that it is impossible for me to accord the pupils individual attention. There is simply no room for me to walk around.”
In the midst of this depressing tale lies a new hope for the future - two gleaming classroom blocks recently built by UNICEF with funds from the Schools for Africa Initiative. The blocks accommodate 170 Standard Eight pupils out of a total school population of 2,300, hardly a dent in the school’s overall needs but a hugely significant one nonetheless.
Overcrowding is not a problem for Mrs. Rose Letala. She is one of two teachers who consider themselves lucky to be teaching in the new classrooms. She says this is the best of her 20 years of teaching.
“I have everything I need,” she says. “Since I lock my classroom, I am able to hang teaching materials on the wall and leave text books in the storeroom without fearing that they will be stolen.”
Even though she has 75 pupils, Mrs. Letala says she finds it easier to organize them in groups. To demonstrate how this works, she saunters into her classroom, the excitement on her pupils’ faces clearly palpable. They love every minute of class and relish working in groups.
“Each line, form a group,” she instructs, pacing up and down the room as chairs shuffle and coalesce around 10 groups. “Turn to page 99 of your Math textbooks, discuss the trapezium you see and come up with an answer.”
The noisy buzz is followed by hands shooting up in quick succession. The pupils exuberantly clap and whistle after every answer given. Mrs. Letala reflects on the change in fortunes.
“They were not like this,” she says. “The new classroom has improved their concentration, they participate more, and they are generally the happiest I have ever seen them.”
It is more than can be said for Lucy and her class. “I also want my class to have more room, a better blackboard, and no dust,” she says. “I want to be able to fulfil my dream of becoming a lawyer one day.”