Wednesday, 8 October 2008

A perfect school?

Photo from Flickr/john.duffell. Creative Commons licence.

I was one of those, probably unnatural, children who enjoyed going to school. I took it for granted that I would, and could. I didn't question the facilities available to me, or wonder if all children could expect the same. My son on the other hand didn't enjoy school. He could produce ever more inventive reasons why he shouldn't be there on any particular day. Although our attitudes were so very different, neither of us appreciated our education which was there for the asking.

Think then of the children who are enrolled at Miteme Junior Primary School in Malawi. They are the lucky ones, the 520 registered pupils. Not every child's family can afford the uniform. Not every family will allow their children to attend. Even though these 520 are registered, the average daily attendance is 100 because children are needed to work on the farm in this rural area near Lilongwe.

What can these lucky children expect at their school? There are no classrooms, so lessons are held outside, under trees. One class does have desks, desks under the trees. The school has to close during the rainy season. Three months later when it is over, many pupils fail to turn up. There are five classes, but only four teachers. At any one time, one class has to roam about aimlessly waiting for attention. There is no water whatsoever. If a child needs a drink, he or she must go home for it, and is unlikely to re-appear at school. How can any of this live up to the ideal of school, one where pupils can learn, develop and enrich their lives.

The Schools for Africa project, backed by UNICEF, plans to build a classroom block and some toilets in order to turn Miteme into a child-friendly school, and so motivating pupils to attend. What seems to us the most basic of requirements should finally enable these children in Malawi to enjoy their right to education.

The photo above doesn't show Miteme School. In case anyone might think it's an isolated instance, this is the description from Flickr:
"The Standard 8 classroom at Mulonde Primary School. These stones were gathered by the community for a building project at the school, with a promise from the local MP that construction would begin as soon as an adequate amount of stones and sand had been collected. After a long, long period of waiting with no results, the stones were eventually put into use for seating in outdoor classrooms (Mulonde, which is a full primary school encompassing 8 grades, has only 4 classrooms).
(Mlambe, Shire Valley, Malawi)"

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