School Development Funds Haunt Pupils

A recent study conducted by Action Aid Malawi in Primary Schools in Neno has established that many learners were dropping out of school because of some fees that parents fail to honour.

According to Action Aid Programme Coordinator for Neno, Landani Masingati said the purpose of the study was to assess the extent to which the fundamental right to education as provided in the country’s Constitution was being enjoyed by learners in the district.

He observed that schools in the district charge user fees to parents for school development activities which has forced some pupils to perform badly or at worst dropout from school completely.

“Most schools are charging students on average to pay for security guards K200 monthly, labour for women who prepare porridge for school feeding programme K200 monthly and an additional K1, 000 for printing of examinations and school reports,” Masingati disclosed.

“This is affecting children who are sent back from school if they don’t pay. Sometimes they even miss examinations leading to repeating a class or eventual drop out. Usually, families with more children, parents will prefer to pay the user fees for boys, leaving out girls in the process,” he added.

Masingati said what the study found out was contradicting the right to free and compulsory education which states that there should be no charges, direct or indirect, for primary education, noting that education was meant to be free at all levels.

The study, according to Masingati, has also found out that there were not enough teachers in rural schools especially female teachers to act as role models for young girls, a development which has led to high pupil-teacher ratios, with an extreme case of Mchokadala Primary School which has 93 learners with one teacher.

Meanwhile, Action Aid has recommended that Neno District Education office should intervene and abolish user fees because they were a barrier to education of children from the poor and marginalized backgrounds.

Secondly, the study has recommended abolishing privatization of public education and equitable distribution of teachers, particularly in rural areas.

Neno District Education Manager, Reuben Menyere said although the findings in the study present realistic challenges on the ground, no one had reported to his office complaining on the practice.

He admitted that there were a number of barriers children in the district were facing in accessing quality education, citing inadequate number of teachers’ houses and offices, inadequate number of desks and lack of female teachers in most schools in rural areas.

Neno District Council Chairperson, Amos Chizenga said he would use his influence to support schools with funding from two financing mechanisms of constituency development fund and the local development fund, respectively to address some of the challenges.

“We will mobilize parents and stakeholders to construct teachers’ houses, classroom blocks, toilets, libraries and rehabilitate those in bad shape,” he pledged.-MANA