Friday, February 20, 2015

Education: The Malawian Girl-Child's Struggle to Remain in School

Her maiden goal was to go a step further than her ancestors’ education levels and, like a squirrel, catch some glimpse of the heaven that education promises.
But, as has become the norm among school-going girls from the area of Traditional Authority Juma in Mulanje, her present situation is a canvass of failed dreams, a development attributed to the day 15-year-old Juliet Kalima decided to desert the place where joy resides- the classroom- and venture into the world on uncertainties far beyond.
Today, those wishing to appreciate her predicament just have to visit Namphongo Market on a market day (Thursday) and they will be hit by the full force of illiteracy levels among girls. The market, located a stone-throw away from Juma’s courts, is congested with girl-vendors, mostly aged between 10 and 18.
Kalima revealed in mid-April that she was forced to drop out of school after getting pregnant in Standard 7.
“That is two years ago. I used to school at Chambe Primary School but was forced out because, they said, they wanted me to deliver and take care of the baby first, yet they left the boy who impregnated me in school,” Kalima said.
That was 13 months ago. Today, having successfully delivered, Kalima said she has no intention of going back to school.
“I am married now, but not to the boy who impregnated me. He told me he wanted to finish school first and I thought that I could not wait for that. I married a business man who, thankfully, happens to be an understanding,” Kalima said, before adding:
“He is the one who gave me K20, 000 to venture into my small scale business of selling pieces of clothes here.”
But, while dropping out of school may, to many, mark the beginning of the loss of all the future promises, that is not the case with Kalima, as she professes to be happy.
It is, therefore, another school drop-out, 17-year-old Agnes Mbulaje who, in tandem with the saying that it is the “the dead who, under the world’s rough pelt, sink into the blindness of despair”, has a sad tale to tell.
“I fell pregnant while in Standard 8, but the man who impregnated meabandoned me a year later on the pretext that I was too young,” Mbulaje said.
However, all may not be lost because the youth themselves, through Tiyamike Youth Alliance for Social Development (Tiyasode), are trying to reverse the situation in Namphongo.
Tiyasode Executive Director, Simon Walima, said the organisation has, since its establishment in 2005, tried to reach out to the girls through clubs such as Luwangwa Girls Club, Malire Girls Club, Timvane Girls Club, Langizo Youth Club, Tayamba Youth Club, Tithandizane Youth Club, Ayin, and Lonjezo Girls Club.
“We have tried, through livelihhod and disaster risk management programmes to reverse the situation. We have tried to run a resource centre for youth, provide vocational training and promote girls education, as well as reafforestation and advocacy programmes on the elimination of harmful cultural practices. Little by little, we are seeing changes, but that is not happening quick enough,” Walima said.
So pathetic is the situation that Mulanje District Youth Officer, Daud Chikwanje, has expressed concern that, if not checked, the situation could go out of hand.
“Namphungo is known for all the bad things in the district. We have issues of high school drop-out rates, early marriages, defilement. We even have parents who offer Standard 6 pupils as wives to teachers,” Chikwanje said.
This year alone, revealed Chikwanje, six girls had dropped out of school at Namphungo Community Day Secondary School, while 23 pupils from Standard 4 to 8 had dropped out of school in the past year alone.
The Ministry of Education has, meanwhile, decried the trend.
“We have noted that many girls are dropping out (of school) on different grounds such as pregnancy, lack of school fees, especially at secondary level, early marriages in other areas of the country, and other factors,” said ministry spokesperson Lindiwe Chide. 
She said the ministry was pinning on the bursary scheme, which has a cash transfer component that caters for out-of-school needs; the re-admission policy, which encourages girls to go back to school after delivery, and; role modeling programmes that use female professionals within the vicinity of target girls to promote the retention of girls in school.
“You may wish to note that some of the girls drop out (of school) just because they do not have models who can inspire them in their areas,” Chide said, adding that mother groups, which are established in schools and are managed by school management committees, were also assisting the ministry’s cause.

Chide hoped that these programmes, along with the school meals programme, would help make the classroom attractive to the girl child.
A 2010 report compiled by Advancing Girls Education in Africa (Age Africa) and titled ‘The State of Girl’s Education in Malawi’ quotes a 2010 World Bank  report which indicates that, of the 27 percent of girls that enroll in secondary schools in Malawi, only 13 percent end up attending secondary education.
It adds that only 13 percent of the girls finish the 4 years of secondary school, while only 5 percent of women nationally have passed their Malawi School Certificate of Education examinations.
“In Malawi, gender inequity in educational enrolment is evidenced by the relative under-enrollment of girls in secondary education. In rural areas alone, girls are outnumbered 10:1 by their male counterparts. Girls also consistently perform worse in national examinations and face dropout at a much higher rate,” reads part of the Age Africa report.
The report blames the situation on gender-based violence, inability to pay school fees, poor quality education, lack of knowledge and resources around sexual and reproductive health issues, lack of female role models, long distance to school, among others.
Observing that high school education was not free in Malawi, the report says a girls’ likelihood of attending and staying in school depends in large part on her ability to pay both fees and associated costs (uniforms, examination fees, supplies), ability to get to school, and the girl’s ability to avoid pregnancy and access to accurate information about her own sexual and reproductive.
Another research, released in August 2009 and conducted by G. Holkamp of Hogeschool Windesheim and titled “Reasons for Girl Drop-Out in Malawi’ indicates that there’s a high drop-out rate in Malawi, especially among girls.
“In 2008, 360, 771 learners were enrolled in primary schools of Malawi in total. Of those learners, 37 percent dropped out,” says the report.
The report also cites early marriages and pregnancies, poverty (orphans), lack of parental care, bad school condition and health problems as some of the reasons fueling the trend.
On the surface, these statistics ma appear as if they were dark shadows on a long, winding road to victory but, on the ground, Chide says things are ticking.

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