The debate over poor academic performance in community day secondary schools (CDSSs) refuses to die.
Education experts and commentators often use CDSSs’ pass rates in national examinations as a measure of students’ academic success.
Examination determines the future of the students.Teachers, parents, students and others judge the students by their scores in Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations.
Despite clearly articulated education goals for secondary education, CDSSs keep performing poorly during national examinations. The 2021 MSCE results was no different.
In 1995, the government turned Malawi College of Distance Education centres into CDSSs to increase access to secondary education.
Unfortunately, most CDSSs have substandard infrastructure marked by poor learning and teaching conditions.
Their poor performance in national examinations could be attributed to the glaring shortage of requisite resources. CDSS learners, especially in rural areas, are haunted by shortage of books and apparatus.
In some cases, a class of 100 students has to share just five textbooks.
Similarly, learning facilities in the community secondary schools leave a lot to be desired.
Few CDSSs are well-equipped with electricity, libraries, laboratories and sanitation facilities.
In some schools, students attend lessons in classrooms without chairs and desks.
In some schools, over 100 students are crammed in one classroom. The high students-teacher ratio has an implication on the implementation of the curriculum and instructional time.
Unsurprisingly, rural CDSSs, which are the most constrained, performed much worse than their urban peers in recent MSCE results.
Additionally, poor students’ performance may also be blamed on shortage of qualified teachers.
There is a high shortage of qualified teachers especially in sciences and mathematics.
Most teachers in CDSSs are underqualified. Their only training was for primary school.
These teachers do not meet the level needed to teach sciences and mathematics in secondary school.
This is most felt in rural areas often shunned by young teachers and graduates.
Additionally, most students selected to CDSSs lack a solid background to excel.
Those with best grades go to national and district secondary schools while low performers are flushed to the nearest CDSS just to fill gaps left by shortage of quality education facilities.
Besides, some students are ill-disciplined and deliberately ignore instructions from teachers. They skip lessons at will. As the disruptive behaviour increases, they no longer work hard.
Absenteeism and long walks to school also fuel poor performance in CDSSs. Most schools are located far from learners’ homes, so they get to class too tired to learn.
This problem also concerns teachers due to shortage of staff houses in CDSSs. Teachers living far from school often seldom work when it rains.
CDSSs are subjected to severe deprivation of necessary inputs and processes, which determine quality teaching and learning.
There is great need for concerted efforts from all stakeholders to urgently address this social ill so that Malawian children are given a non-discriminatory access to education right.
CDSSs deserve urgent attention to improve their performance in national examinations.
This includes the provision of relevant infrastructure, teaching and learning materials and qualified staff.
For underqualified staff, it would be useful to support in-service teaching and distance learning programmes as a way of addressing the problems.