The Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) has faulted government for subjecting pupils to hazardous learning environments which deprive them of their rights to education and life.
The remarks follow the collapse of a classroom at Nantchengwa Primary School in Zomba two weeks ago that killed four Standard 3 pupils and injured 17 others.
In an interview on Friday, MHRC executive secretary David Nungu observed that the State has an obligation to provide education that is accessible, acceptable and without discrimination, emphasising that acceptability entails that education facilities are safe and that goods and services are of good quality.
He said failure to meet the obligations is a violation of pupils’ right to education.
Said Nungu: “Subjecting children to an educational environment that is hazardous to their life is a violation of the right to life and survival of children. Where rights are violated, compensation would be an appropriate remedy. In view of the foregoing, the State may be liable to compensate those affected.”
But in its preliminary report on the incident issued yesterday, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) said it would institute a formal investigation on the tragedy to ensure such incidences do not occur again.
The report, signed by MoEST Principal Secretary Justin Saidi, also notes that the structure that fell on the pupils, which was built by the school committee, was substandard.
Reads the report in part: “Since the advent of decentralisation of primary schools to local councils, the ministry has increasingly become anxious about the quality of infrastructure and services in as far as quality education is concerned. The ministry will therefore look at this matter in order to decide to what extent primary schools should be decentralised for better quality education.”
The report also appeals to District Councils and school committees to utilise standard designs and schedule of materials provided by the Education Infrastructure Management Unit (EIMU) which is under the ministry and that there must be community participation in the building of school blocks.
But in a separate interview last week after visiting the school, Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec) executive director Benedicto Kondowe, also blamed government for failing to provide a conducive learning environment for the rural pupils.
According to Nantchengwa Primary School head teacher Blazio Liviele, the incident occurred during the first period when the class teacher went to get additional chalk for lessons.
The four pupils that died were Tisunge Francisco, 12; Jenifer Bonongwe 11; Gift Mwanyada, 10 and Madalitso Nayuma, 13.
Last week, officials from the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) also visited the school, where among others, they gave each of the four bereaved families K150 000 and K50 000 to each of the families whose children were admitted to Zomba Central Hospital.