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.

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

Video Drug Use Rises in Afghanistan

Ninety percent of world’s heroin comes from Afghanistan More

Here's Your Chance to Live in a Deserted Shopping Mall

About one-third of the 1200 enclosed malls in the US are dead or dying. Here's what's being done with them. More

Video NASA: Big Antarctica Ice Shelf Is Disintegrating

US space agency’s new study indicates Larsen B shelf could break up in just a few years 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.
Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriagei
X
May 21, 2015 4:14 AM
The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.
Video

Video Women to March for Peace Between Koreas

Prominent female activists from around the world plan to march through the demilitarized zone dividing North and South Korea to call for peace between the two neighbors, divided for more than 60 years. The event, taking place May 24, marks the International Women's Day for Peace and Disarmament and has been approved by both Koreas. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug Use Rises in Afghanistan Following Record High Poppy Crops

Afghanistan has seen record high poppy crops during the last few years - and the result has been an alarming rise in illegal drug use and addiction in the war-torn country. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem has this report from Kabul.
Video

Video America’s Front Lawn Gets Overhaul

America’s front yard is getting a much-needed overhaul. Almost two kilometers of lawn stretch from the U.S. Capitol to the Washington Monument. But the expanse of grass known as the National Mall has taken a beating over the years. Now workers are in the middle of restoring the lush, green carpet that fronts some of Washington’s best-known sights. VOA’s Steve Baragona took a look.

VOA Blogs