Proponents of girl child education and 50-50 campaign would be disillusioned with results of the recent primary school district mock examination in Lilongwe.
While only about 1 800 candidates passed the examination out of more than 8 000 pupils, girls were the worst performers in the examination, with only a handful of them passing the average mark.
Only 10 girls were among the over 40 excellent performers, leaving most girls with no choice but to watch their male colleagues receiving prizes at Lilongwe Community Centre ground, where pupils from 75 primary schools in the city converged to get their results and prizes.
“This is a concern to us as district education office. It concerns us because it is happening at the time we have been talking about gender equality and the performance of girls in classes is still low,” said Lilongwe district education manager Sezerine Misomali last week.
Perfomance remains low
She said the performance of girls in classes remains low because of many reasons, including the continued male dominance in society.
“One factor is that girls are still living in a society that is dominated by men in many areas. The society still looks down on the potential of the girl child; hence, girls do not get equal support in their studies,” said Misomali.
She said while girlsâ€™ enrolment in primary schools has gone up, many girls still fail to proceed to secondary school.
“There are a lot of girls being enrolled in primary schools, but many of them get discouraged by the conditions they live in and fail to continue with their studies,” Misomali said.
Misomali, however, said while many girls do not perform well in class, government is still impressed with the quality of performance of the few girls who excel in their studies as compared to the past.
The highest performing girl in the mock examination, Annes Chitawa from Chipala Primary School, scored 469 marks out of 600 and took position six from number one performer, Clement Kapatamoyo of Kabwabwa Primary School who scored 524 marks.
“Many teachers also need to be enlightened on the disadvantages of treating girls and boys differently and underrating the potential of girls,” Misomali added.
More teachers in town
She said girls in cities are at an advantage than those in rural areas because government has deployed more female teachers in towns.
“There is no reason why girls in town should not work hard. Girls in town are privileged because they have many female teachers who act as their role models.
“We expect them to be encouraged to work harder than their colleagues in rural areas,” said Misomali.
Lilongwe City Council chief executive officer Kelvin Mmangisa, who presented the prizes to the outstanding pupils, also said the council is worried about the poor performance of girls in schools.
“The issue of girl child education starts at home, where girls are the ones who perform almost 90 percent of household chores while boys spend more time studying.
“There is also the issue of attitude of teachers towards the girl child. Some teachers look at the girl child as someone they can send to do other things while boys are learning in class. This is impacting negatively on the performance of girls in schools,” said Mmangisa.
He said some parents also fail to assist their children with class work when they knock off from school, which he said also leads to poor performance of girls in class.
“Parents should take time to follow up on the work their children have done at school and help them to do some exercises.
“Teachers handle big classes and it is sometimes difficult to pay attention to every pupil. Parents can engage their children one-on-one to help improve their performance,” he said.
Winning the battle
With the continued low performance of girls in primary schools, Janet Banda, a parent whose daughter failed the mock examination said chances of winning the battle of empowering girls largely depends on how teachers attend to pupils at school.
“The challenge is to all of us, including government, to help girls excel. There is still a lot to be done,” said Banda.
According to Unicef Malawi 2010 Report, the high dropout rate of female pupils in primary school is worrisome. It attributes the problem to several challenges, including poor learning environments.
“School environments often discourage girls and boys from attending class. Overcrowded classrooms, an absence of sports and play areas, shortages of teaching and learning material, low teacher morale and the lack water and separate toilets for boys and girls do not create a space where children are able or willing to learn and thrive.
“Added to this are cases of bullying, sexual harassment and corporal punishment, which often go unreported and threaten childrenâ€™s safety and dignity,” reads part of the report.
The report further notes that given that 74 percent of pupils do not complete a full course of primary schooling, it is unlikely that Malawi will achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 2 on attaining universal primary education by 2015.