William Kamkwambaâ€™s story is probably one of the most inspiring tales to come out of Malawi. The boy, from the central Malawi district of Kasungu, built a windmill from junkyard scraps to help feed his village.
In 2003, at age 14, William was forced to drop out of school because his family could not afford to pay his tuition. That year, there was also a drought in the country. This meant he not only had no money to purchase the parts but also no formal education to teach him how to put them together.
But this did not stop his dream of a windmill that would produce electricity for his village. Determined, he headed to the local library and read its limited selection of textbooks, then gathered some scrapsâ€”a bicycle dynamo, bamboo poles, a tractor fan, rubber belts, a bike chain ringâ€”and brought his vision to life, building a functioning windmill.
He spent the next five years perfecting the design and went on to found the Moving Windmills Project in 2008 to foster rural economic development and education projects in Malawi. He later went on to become an inspiration to many youths across the globe. He even published a memoir, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope.
Williamâ€™s beautiful, moving and inspirational story is one of the many inventions that have come out of youngsterâ€™s ingenuity and determination. Some have gone on to produce solar-powered cookers and irrigation equipment that have made life easier for the poor, average Malawian.
Despite that the country faces challenges in promoting science subjects in schools, such success stories not only give hope that determination pays but they also reveal the advantages of promoting science in the country. For example, if it were not for Williamâ€™s windmill, his village would probably have not known electricity.
However, most pupils continue to struggle with science subjects in Malawi. Take the story of 14-year-old Newton Kalua-Mphombo. The assessment report for the Form Three student at Chichiri Secondary School in Blantyre is full of unsatisfactory results in science subjects such as physical science, mathematics and biology.
Although he is good at arts subjects, his performance in the sciences has left him dejected. Last term, Newton nearly absconded from sitting mathematics and physical science examinations.
Attending remedial classes with a private teacher who has specialised skills in science subjects has not yielded much.
â€œThe drawback is that we rarely do practical experiments on our lessons due to lack of laboratories for physics and chemistry, and biology. Again, there are too many pupils to be accommodated by the laboratory?â€ he says.
Newton is one of the many students struggling to develop an interest in science subjects.
What he and other pupils face today is depicted in Changes and Challenges Facing the Education System in Malawi, a research article by Ruben Dyson Hango of 2003.
In his research, Hango argued that lack of resources in schools, especially CDSSs, forced government to create some courses that rely more on local resources than imported ones.
â€œScience and technology and integrated Science were introduced as core subjects. Physical science and biology were then made electives [optional subjects] something that weakens the power of science subjects in schools,â€ says Hango.
This to education campaigners remains a challenge in Malawi where it is doubtful that the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on Universal Access to Education will be met by 2015.
Recently, Gerald Chiunda, spokesperson for the Malawi National Examinations Board (Maneb), is on record to have told The Nation that poor performance in science subjects is an indication that schools are not providing students with enough skills and knowledge of laboratory work.
Although the Ministry of Education in the National Education Sector Plan (NESP) for 2008 to 2017 highlights specialised training for teachers, not much has been achieved.
But the Ministry of Education authorities point out that although they have not carried out any research and monitoring, results show some improvement.
â€œWe are working hard to improve. Performance cannot be as fast as we want, after all, more students from CDSSs, where science laboratories are not available, get selected to University of Malawi. Go through the selection list of students pursuing various science courses in the university,â€ said Raphael Agabu, director of advisory services in the ministry.
Agabu is of the view that the current process of reviewing the school curriculum will also help students in secondary schools understand such subjects better.
But the Civil Society Coalition on Education (CSCE) blames government for failure to provide the required equipment in laboratories and books for students to study without restrictions.
â€œGovernmentâ€™s call has fallen short of input to help learners to consider such subjects. For example, primary schools, which offer a good background to learners, are not provided with laboratory equipment at a tender age,â€ says Benedicto Kondowe, executive director of CSCE.
These challenges are likely to be part of Unesco commemoration for the World Science Day for Peace and Development. The day falls on November 10 and leans on sciences and development.
This is in addition to a three-year project Unesco is running focusing on girls in secondary and primary so they develop passion for science subjects seriously in accordance with the UN joint team. The joint team comprises UNFPA, World Health Organisation and Unicef.
A representative from Unesco David Mulera said the project has two impact areas of Mangochi and Chikhwawa where focus is on girls only before it is also adopted in other districts and schools.
â€œWe want girls to take science seriously beginning with our impact areas, after that, it should be adopted in other areas. We provide laboratories in these schools and necessary equipment with assistance from Norway through UNFPA,â€ said Mulera.
Unesco says the World Science Day seeks to further renew the national as well as the international commitment to science for peace and development, raise public awareness of the importance of science and to bridge the gap between science and societies.