Diamonds In The Rough: Making Quality Education A RealityMary-Jean Nleya
On Wednesday, 18 October 2017, The Global Communiqué’s 5th segment of Grassroots Reporting journeyed to Chiwenga Primary School in Likuni – a village centrally located in Malawi – situated in the outskirts of the capital, Lilongwe. Two interviews were conducted at the school: one with the Head Teacher, Mr. Fanuel Dzinziye and the second interview with a Standard 7 Teacher at the primary school, Ms. Grace Mkute. Below are excerpts from the two respective interviews, mildly edited for brevity.
Interview with the Head Teacher
Q: Good morning, can you please tell us your name and your role at this school?
Dzinziye: My name is Faniel Dzinziye. I am the Head Teacher at Chiwenga Primary School. I have been the Head Teacher here for 7 years.
Q: How many students do you have at this school?
Dzinziye: We have 3,036 students in Standards 1 through to Standard 8. The students’ numbers are as follows: 415 students in Standard 1; 430 students in Standard 2; 471 students in Standard 3; 404 students in Standard 4; 414 students in Standard 5; 381 students in Standard 6; 351 students in Standard 7 and 170 students in Standard 8.
Q: There appears to be a drastic reduction in the student numbers in Standard 8, the final year of primary school. What is the cause of this?
Dzinziye: At this school, Chiwenga Primary School, we do not have enough physical infrastructure for the students. Some students learn under trees and others learn inside classroom buildings. The Standard 8 students learn inside classroom buildings because they have to prepare for the Malawian National Examinations; while the other students in the lower standards learn under trees, because of the lack of physical infrastructure. So, the reduction in numbers of Standard 8 learners is caused by some students leaving to go to other schools and some students drop out.
Q: Are there other schools within this community and what are the names of such schools?
Dzinziye: This school, Chiwenga Primary School is the only school within the vicinity; but there are other schools in the surrounding areas: Likuni Girls’ Primary School and there is also Likuni Boys’ Primary School.
Q: What can you say about the current condition of thiS school, Chiwenga Primary School.
Dzinziye: We have so many learners; but little infrastructure and we are lacking teaching materials and also lacking the resources for these students to receive quality education. We are trying to utilize the small resources – the few classrooms and the few teaching materials – we have at our disposal. We have 16 classroom buildings and some students have to learn outside under trees. [While pointing towards some trees] You see those big trees there, those are classrooms for some students. But we are making the most with what we have, for example, I am happy to say that our learners beat the national pass rate in the Malawian National Examinations. Our pass rate was 76%; whereas the national pass rate was 75.2%.
Q: Do you have many students dropping out of school and if so, what are the causes?
Dzinziye: Yes, we have some students who drop out. I think it is because of the learning environment. This environment is not fully conducive for learning. I would also say that the location of the school – we are near some bars and entertainment centers which can be distracting for learners. From the re-admission records, we seem to have a lot of the re-admitted students being girls. I think it is safe to say that the drop out is especially among female students.
Mr. Dzinziye, Head Teacher of Chiwenga Primary School
Q: Does this community support girls’ education or are boys favoured to receive an education?
Dzinziye: I can only speak for this community, and I think this community has passed that level. Local leaders have sensitized parents to the point that girls and boys are viewed as equals when it comes to gaining primary school education, particularly in this community – based on what I have observed. We also have a School Mother Group, which is a group that scout for young children, both girls and boys, who are not attending school and bring them to attend school.
Q: Based on your experience in this local context, what can you say about the use of ICTs as an enabler to educate these learners?
Dzinziye: ICTs can help; but our context is different in that before we can think about ICTs, we have to talk first about getting electricity. We don’t have electricity here to even charge any big technologies in the school.
Q: So, what are your current immediate needs?
Dzinziye: 1. We need classroom blocks – some learners are learning outside, under trees. Having adequate classroom blocks can improve the education standard. 2. We need a fence around this school. Chiwenga Primary School is just in the open. Anyone can come in and out. Education should also have a sense of security – with that, learners can learn better. Anything that passes by, distracts the students. 3. We also especially need teaching and learning textbooks. There are not enough textbooks. In some instances, you have 20 learners sharing 2 textbooks and sometimes even 1 textbook for 30 learners. We also do not have enough teachers’ guides.
Q: What do you do to motivate the teachers?
Dzinziye: I started to do a teacher’s awards ceremony. Over the course of a learning cycle, I have teacher assessments which track the teachers’ attendance, their lesson preparations and the teacher’s records. Based on the performance of the respective teachers, the highest scoring teachers receive certificates. This has gained prominence among the teachers and keeps them motivated.
Q: Any final words?
Dzinziye: We have committed teachers and we have land; but no resources. Learners are keen and eager to learn; but no resources for them. This community is also willing – we had the government bring us corrugated iron and some community members brought some bricks, with this I saw the community coming together to build a classroom building – its in the process of being built now, when it is complete it will be a classroom for Standard 1. Finally, access to quality education is beneficial for community development. Lack of access to quality education results in low development. If Chiwenga Primary School is to get more classroom blocks, a fence and teaching and learning resources, that will be beneficial for this whole community.
Interview with the Standard 7 Teacher
Q: Good morning, can you please introduce yourself?
Mkute: My name is Grace Mkute and I am the Standard 7A teacher. I have been a teacher for 23 years, since 1994 and I have been at Chiwenga Primary School since 2012.
Ms. Mkute, Standard 7 Teacher at Chiwenga Primary School
Q: What kind of teaching experience have you had?
Mkute: My learners lack adequate teaching materials. The learning resources are inadequate – for 85 learners, there are only 7 books and these books are in poor condition. Some books start in page 5. It’s difficult for teachers and learners.
Q: How do you manage having 85 learners and only 7 books for them?
Mkute: We have to teach the students group work – we divide the students into 8 groups.
Q: Are you one of the teachers who teaches students under a tree?
Mkute: I feel privileged, I do not teach under a tree. I am a Standard 7 teacher – so the older students begin to prepare for the national exams so I teach in a classroom building.
Q: What can you say about learners learning under a tree?
Mkute: It is not secure for learners. It can be difficult to learn and to teach because it can get dusty – and this can cause both learners and teachers to develop coughs.
Q: What kind of support are you hoping to get to enable you to better teach your students?
Mkute: I am hoping for stakeholder support, especially among educational content creators and providers to support us with teaching materials and teachers’ guides.
Q: How do you ensure that you and the other teachers are up-to-date with effective methods to teach your students given your circumstances?
Mkute: We have what we call CPD [Continuous Professional Development] – where we go to other schools and share best practices among ourselves with other teachers in other schools. We do this two times a year. It helps to see what other teachers are doing that you may not be doing in the class. We had one of these best practices sharing activities at Mphandula Primary School.
Q: What keeps you motivated as a teacher in such conditions?
Mkute: As a person, you should motivate yourself. My interest and responsibility is to wake up in the morning and go to work to teach learners. I am also motivated to see what my students have the potential to become in the future. The Head Teacher also started recognizing teachers performing well and I am proud to say that I am one of the teachers who was recognized and that is definitely also a motivating factor.
Q: Any final words?
Mkute: I am pleading with any potential supporters to assist our school and also other schools in this zone because we have similar experiences with the other schools in this zone.
Indeed, these children – the students at Chiwenga Primary School – have access to some kind of education, they wake up each morning to go to school. However, Sustainable Development Goal 4 envisages to have “inclusive and equitable quality education…” and the operative word being quality education. This is a challenge in many different country-contexts in Africa and the rest of the world due to inadequate resources and in this case physical infrastructure. To ensure that the 2030 Agenda is a reality, it is important that children such as these, who are diamonds in the rough, are found and supported to be part of the 2030 dream.