It still boggles a myriad minds. It remains a jigsaw puzzle to many. Many are left with their mouth agape to date when they hear of a heart-rending tale of the erstwhile unknown Natiswe Primary School in Dedza whose story can be likened to the biblical account of David versus Goliath.
A rural school situated in Kafere Village under group village headman Kachipendeko, only has two classes with most pupils learning in grass-thatched huts has become an epitome of victory and accomplishment after it emerged Malawi’s best performing primary school in the 2019 Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education (PSLCE) examination.
According to Malawi National Examination Board (Maneb), the school achieved a 100 percent pass rate with all 27 learners selected to various secondary schools. In fact, the school has maintained a 100 percent pass rate in PLSCE examinations since 2017.
This story keeps perplexing many people, leaving them with more questions than answers.
“How can the ‘deprived’ be the best,” wonders a Lilongwe resident, Moses Kachale.
He finds it very astonishing to have a primary school in Dzalanyama forest with poor basic infrastructure to be in the driving seat, ahead of other classy and elegant primary schools with all necessary infrastructure and bountiful learning material.
The school opened its doors in 2004 with a cumulative enrolment of 218 learners in Standard 1 and 2.
But fast forward to the year 2020, the school now has a total enrolment of 1022 learners with only two permanent classroom blocks against a stream of 16 classes.
“This means 12 classes learn in make shift shelters,” says the school’s headteacher Zachariah Joshua.
Simply put, the school has two classrooms. The rest are temporary structures and that alone puts lives of innocent children at risk as the structures are susceptible to shocks such as heavy winds and other hostile weather.
Gossam Mafuta, director of basic education in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) also finds it difficult to swallow, describing the tale of the Dedza school as shocking but interesting.
He states: “As you can see, the school is in the rural setting and teachers conduct classes in grass-thatched huts, but it has beaten all the primary schools in Malawi.”
Fundamental right to education
Globally, education is a fundamental and inalienable right enshrined in the bill of rights. The Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS III), which is Malawi’s overarching medium term development plan, places education as one of the key priority areas.
In addition, goal number four of the global sustainable development goals (SDGs) calls for an inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.
With the status quo at Natiswe in terms of its under-par infrastructure despite the school emerging an icon for triumph and excellence, something somewhere is amiss.
The plight of Natiswe, however, is a drop in an ocean as many primary schools across the country face similar challenges such as high enrolment rate, poor infrastructure yet year-in year-out the national budget keeps on allocating billions of kwacha in the education sector let alone donors pumping money into the sector, which is seemingly stunted in its growth.
The trend has been evident since the introduction of free primary education in 1994. Low investment in the education sector is best summed up by children learning under tree shades, makeshift classrooms and blocks falling apart.
Something is cooking worth triggering a smile on the faces of teachers, pupils and their parents at Natiswe, thanks to a Lilongwe-based well-wisher in the name of Creck Hardware and General Dealers.
The well-wisher is currently constructing a K24 million classroom block which will simply lessen the hardship that continue to torment pupils and learners at the school. The genesis of this noble cause is worth digging, however.
A visit at the project site this week shows that the classroom block is at roofing level.
The project follows a special request that was made to Creck Hardware and General Supplies by Youth and Children Rights Shield (Yocris) to support construction of a school block at the school.
“Moved with the MGDS III and the SGDS, and also being a socially-responsible corporate company, Creck Hardware honoured the request by Yocris to finance the construction,” reveals Yocris executive director Bright Kampaundi.
Kampaundi says they had engaged some cooperate entities but they were not forth-coming, stressing that when they approached Creck Hardware and General Supplies, they got a nod to partner with them to implement the project.
According to Kampaundi, his institution was touched and at the same time excited when they heard that Natiswe was declared the best primay school last year yet it had poor infrastructure.
Chipping in, Creck managing director Clifford Kawinga explains that there is no greater calling than helping the least privileged to catch up with the better-off.
He says his company is also very pleased to be associated with corporate social responsibility projects that will transform people’s like in the long term not just in short term.
“We believe that the project that we are financing is very important to national development and we know it will help many children in Kafere area. Education is key to national development and we love to contribute to the national agenda as a business entity through corporate social responsibility programmes and this is just one of the projects that we have supported,” added Kawinga.
For headteacher Joshua, the project is purely a timely relief and reward for the hardworking teachers and learners.
Dedza district education manager George Ngaiyaye feels it is encouraging for a remote school operating with meagre resources to emerge a star performer. He says the district intends to use the school as a role model.
For educationist Steve Sharra, it’s all kudos to Creck Hardware Dealers in construction, plumbing, electrical and safety supplies—for coming to the rescue of many children at Natiswe. He says everyone has a role to play in raising education standards in the country. “We must all hold hands to ensure our education system is operating in a conducive learning environment. Good classrooms motivate both learners and teachers,” Sharra says.