News / Africa

Malawi Education Activists Push for End to Primary School Fees

Activists are pushing the government to stop asking parents to help defray the cost of operating primary schools. For most parents, that’s at least US $5 per child each term, or $15 per year. Officials say the money goes to what they call a development fund. But critics say the payments are fees that violates the government’s promise of free and universal primary school education.

TEXT SIZE - +
Lameck Masina
This is Part 2 of a 12-part series:  Education in Africa
Continue to Parts: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 /
6 / 7/ 8 / 9 / 10 / 11 /12

 

It’s 7 o’clock in the morning.  Eight-year-olds Irene and James are on their way to school. Clad in blue and black uniforms, the standard 2 pupils walk towards Ndirande Primary School in Blantyre while reciting the alphabet.

But two of their friends have been absent because their mother, the only parent living at home, can’t afford the yearly fee to the school.

Their mother Juliana Chisesere is worried for their future.

“It’s sad," she said, "that children are being sent back due [to failure to pay] fees from schools that are meant to be free.  How can they say that the primary education is free while we are forced to pay? I am failing to pay for the children because I don’t have the money at the moment.”

Primary school teacher marks students' work in Malawi's southern district of Phlombe.
Primary school teacher marks students' work in Malawi's southern district of Phlombe.

Some schools say parents do have the money to pay and schools use various tactics to force payments – such as suspending students for other reasons.

Chekaukutu Ndege, a former deputy headmaster for Bisa primary school in the southern district of Machinga, explains.

“It happens that most of the parents take advantage [of the situation]," he asserted. "If the students are being allowed to go into class without paying the fees, they see no reason to pay. But whenever we [kick out] the pupils, the parents are forced to pay that little amount of money.”

Juliana Chisesere and the parents of other suspended students are pushing for an end to the fees.

Influential survey

Energizing their effort is a recent survey by the local Evergreen Center for Development. The study, conducted in the northern city of Mzuzu, shows that about 500 pupils from six primary schools there missed final examinations because their parents had not paid their dues.

Charles Kajoloweka,  the coordinator of the study, said, “The concern is that we are having so many students in primary schools who are denied their right to education that is supposed to be free because of these charges by the schools on primary education.”

The study also shows the money collected is used to pay for water and electricity bills, security guards and for printing examinations.

Kajoloweka said in his opinion, the government should be able to pay for everything.  He says its allotting sufficient money to education, but funds are not being used wisely. 

“We have also [heard] that these schools are [charging fees] because of underfunding from the government," he said, "But surprisingly we’ve observed that the Ministry of Education is [receiving the] lion’s share of the national budget. So our recommendation was that we need financial prudence in managing the allocation of funds in the Ministry of Education, which seems not to be the case as of now.”

The Evergreen Center’s study has attracted the attention of an umbrella body of educational organizations, the Civil Society Coalition for Quality Basic Education.

Its executive director, Benedicto Kondowe, said unless the system changes, it will be hard for Malawi to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals.  They call for universal primary education by 2015.

A call for action

“This issue is not new to the government," said Kondowe. "Many stake holders have spoken against it and the authorities seem to [turn] a deaf ear. We want the president to issue a directive that schools should not force learners to pay into a development fund. Leaders should realize they cannot continue to frustrate learners any more. They need to be in class and the issue of development fund should cease [immediately].”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, Lindiwe Chide, told a local daily newspaper The Nation that all primary schools in Malawi contribute to school maintenance, and that the government would not abolish the fee. But Chide said it is not right for the pupils to be sent home for failing to pay the fund, adding that it’s the role of the Parent-Teacher Association to find ways to make up the difference if some pupils fail to pay. She promised her ministry will look into allegations that some schools are penalizing students who do not pay their share.

Meanwhile, Charles Kajoloweka of Evergreen Center for Development, is advising the students and communities to defend the rights of the primary school pupils to a free education.

United Nations statistics show that  three million children are enrolled in primary education, or about 90% of those eligible.  But development specialists say indirect fees for uniforms and schooling are among the reasons why some students do not go to school.

You May Like

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Turkish Law Gives Spy Agency Controversial Powers

Parliament approves legislation to bolster powers of intelligence service, which government claims is necessary to modernize and deal with new threats Turkey faces More

Video Face of American Farmer Changing

Average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Face of American Farmer is Changingi
X
Mike Osborne
April 18, 2014
The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid