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New classrooms, fresh worries

UNICEF Malawi/2011/Malamula
© UNICEF Malawi/2011/Malamula
Bishop Chibalo, headteacher at Mombo Primary School says the new classroom blocks constructed by UNICEF have raised enrolment in junior classes.

By Felix Malamula

Mulanje, 30 June, 2011: When Mombo Primary School in Mulanje, southern Malawi swung open its doors at the beginning of the second term in 2010, few expected the large numbers of children who turned up to enrol for the first time, not least the schools head teacher Mr. Bishop Chibalo.

“It was a bad day I tell you,” he says, vividly recalling the scramble that ensued. “We had so many children that we registered those we could accommodate and the rest we turned away for lack of classroom space.”

The scramble was not surprising. The new school term coincided with the opening of two new classroom blocks funded by UNICEF. Each block came fitted with an office for use by the teachers and other staff.

“We saw a surge in new enrolments because of the new classrooms but also because our school is close to the main road, which makes access easier. Some of the children who showed up had been enrolled at other schools in the area,” says Chibalo.

Mombo Primary School is just 300 meters from the Thyolo - Mulanje road, one of the busiest in the southern region as it links Malawi to Mozambique. Before the two classroom blocks were constructed, pupils in standards one and two were learning in a dusty, poorly ventilated classroom constructed by the community years back.

“This classroom was one of the reasons for the low enrolments in the lower classes. The children found it difficult to stay clean in a dusty room. As a result, absenteeism was a major problem. When you asked the parents, the answer was always that their children’s clothes were dirty and they had no soap. It was difficult,” says John Mwambucha, a standard one teacher.

UNICEF Malawi/2011/Malamula
© UNICEF Malawi/2011/Malamula
The two classroom blocks constructed by UNICEF at Mombo Primary School in Mulanje.

The surge in enrolment resulted in the school registering 379 pupils in standard one, a number Chibalo said was too high.

“We had no choice but to turn away some children. If we had allowed in every child, then we would have had more than 500 children, which is unrealistic.”

Mwambucha, the standard one teacher, says even the 379 that are enrolled in standard one is too big a class for one teacher to handle. The school has therefore decided to split the class into Standard 1 (A) and Standard 1 (B). This means the school will need additional resources like classrooms and teachers.

“It is difficult for a teacher to handle a big class. We divide the class into small groups where they can do their work but still it does not help much. We need at least four additional classrooms, and then we will be comfortable,” he says.

As part of making the school child friendly, UNICEF also constructed ten modern toilets, two for staff and eight for the pupils. Malawi has an estimated shortage of 30,000 classrooms, resulting in a high teacher-to-pupil ratio of 1:88. With only about 2,000 classrooms being constructed every year, it will take the country at least 15 years to meet the demand, based on the current student population.



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