Ireen Chrispin, 10, a Standard Five pupil at Kasuza Junior Primary School in Mchinji, is not sure if she will continue with her education.
She is among the school’s 176 female learners who look up to the facility’s five teachers, males only.
“Besides all problems at this school, we need a female teacher who will motivate us to work hard and be our role model. Most of us do not know if a woman can be educated and become a teacher or someone in society.
“As such we ask government to consider us by bringing a female teacher at this institution to guide and help us achieve our dreams,” says Chrispin.
Another of her worries is that the school does not have sanitary facilities for girls which she believes could not have been the case if there was a female teacher.
“We share a single toilet which is not cemented, and it is thatched with grass. The structure puts our lives at risk especially during this rainy season. Our parents tried to construct toilets for us, but they are of low standard. They might even collapse before we start using them. We need a female teacher to fight these battles for us,” explains Chrispin.
Being a junior primary school, which has classes up to Standard Five, it is hard for most pupils to complete their education at the nearby full primary schools due to long distances.
“The nearby schools of Kavuta and Mtako are eight kilometres away and for a young girl that’s a long distance to walk.
“I am even afraid if I will manage to cover that distance when given the opportunity to proceed to Standard Six,” adds Chrispin.
The introduction of free-primary education in 1994 brought challenges in the country’s primary education system.
The increase in enrolment put pressure on teaching and learning materials, availability of adequate qualified teachers, class space and provision of adequate sanitary facilities.
However, 25 years later, the system has not fully overcome these challenges.
The notable consequence has been low quality of primary education which has also negatively affected the learning outcomes, learner retention, promotion rates to upper classes and the transition rate to secondary school.
Lack of female teachers in most primary schools, just as at Kasuza, is also another setback for more girls to complete their education.
However, Kasuza Junior Primary School head teacher Hermes Nthiwatiwa says the male teachers discourage girls from quitting when they feel like doing so.
“As teachers, whether male or female, we know how to handle all students, but it is not enough. We are still different, and this makes us to sometimes use the nearby mother group to help us in mentoring our girls, but since their education levels are low, they cannot motivate a child to be in school because they did not go far with their education.
“Following the transfer of a female teacher two years ago, we have had issues of rising dropouts, especially of girls because we believe the learners need someone of their own gender to look up to and if government can help us with that then dropout rates would be reduced in this area,” he says.
Group village head Chisenga describes the situation at the school as pathetic and commended his people for their undying will to see their children get educated.
“This school started as a community-based childcare centre in 2009, but here we are with structures that have been constructed by the community members themselves. What we want is for our children to be educated so that in future they will contribute towards developing this area,” he says.
Education expert George Mindano concurs with the learners and the community members on the need for learners to have teachers to look up to for inspiration.
“Teachers are people with whom learners spend most of their time with and have the potential to infuse into the learners and shape their career aspirations.
“It takes an even stronger mould and inspiration to survive, thrive, stay in school, complete school and find a good paying job as an adult for those girls who feel like giving up when they meet with challenges in life. As such a female teacher should be around at each and every school,” he says.
Kapiri Community Development Organisation in Traditional Authority Dambe has been engaging the community in different development aspects including promoting girl child education.
The organisation’s executive director Linda Kabanda says lack of motivation for the female learners has pushed them to early marriages as they do not realise the benefit of getting educated.
“When girls have come of age, they find it hard to get the necessary help as they have no one to ask. As such they end up dropping out of school and getting married and all these issues are cropping in because the school does not have a female teacher,” she says. Mchinji district education manager Nelly Mtedza notes the community’s concerns. She, therefore, states that government will do something tangible during the next deployment of teachers.