Last year, teachers and learners at Natiswe Primary School in Dedza District showed the nation what they can do with limited resources.
The rural school with all but two classes learning in grass-thatched huts, has become a symbol of triumph over adversity after emerging the best performer in 2019 Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education (PLSCE) examinations.
Gossam Mafuta, director of basic education in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, finds it astonishing that the constrained primary school in Dzalanyama Forest outclassed 6 194 nationwide.
He states: “As you can see, the school is in the rural setting and teachers conduct classes in grass-thatched huts, but it has beaten all the primary schools in Malawi.
“This has given us a lesson that for a school to perform well, it is not only about having good classrooms and desks, but about the commitment of teachers, parents and chiefs.
“There are many primary schools out there that have everything, but Natiswe has beaten them despite having big problems.”
According to Malawi National Examination Board (Maneb), the school achieved a 100 percent pass rate with 27 learners selected to various secondary schools.
Dedza District education manager George Ngaiyaye says Natiswe offers priceless lessons on everything to do when striving for success.
Teachers from Dedza have been visiting the school to learn how to produce exciting results.
Similarly, well-wishers are weighing in to lessen the hardship faced by both pupils and learners.
Recently, Creck Hardware and General Dealers unveiled plans to construct a K20 million classroom block to replace leaky shacks.
Head teacher Zachariah Joshua says this is a timely relief and reward for the hardworking teachers and learners.
“The school has two classrooms only. The rest are temporary structures,” he says.
The pride of Natiswe mirrors the face of many primary schools which have experienced high enrolment rates and low investment in creating a conducive teaching and learning environment since the introduction of free primary education in 1994. Low investment in the education sector is best summed up by children learning under tree shades, makeshift classrooms and blocks falling apart.
Natiswe, established in 2004 to relieve 218 Standard One and Two learners who were enduring long walks to neighbouring schools, currently enrols 1024 learners in all eight grades.
“The numbers keep rising due to the success story of dedicated teachers, but the infrastructure is the same—not good enough,” says Joshua.
The school has a stream of 16 classes, but 12 learn in shaky buildings made of grass, poles and mud. Despite this setback, it has maintained a 100 percent pass rate in PLSCE examinations since 2017.
For Creck managing director Clifford Kawinga, there is no greater calling than helping the least privileged to catch up with the better-off.
He explains: “As a local company, we want to contribute towards improving access to quality basic education in the country. We hope the new school block will improve the learning environment, enrollment and completion rates at the outstanding rural school.
“In terms of equity, we hope the new classrooms will help children disadvantaged by gender, poverty, special needs and geographical location achieve greatness in life.”
According to the Constitution, every child has an inalienable right to education—a pillar of the third Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS III). In Sustainable Development Goal number four (SDG4), the global agenda to end poverty by 2030 promotes inclusive and equitable quality education as well as lifelong learning opportunities for all.
“The permanent classrooms at the rural school in Dedza will help many generations in the area,” says Kawinga. “Time has come for business entities to be socially compliant by supporting the national development agenda with strategic projects that will benefit generations, not short-lived cosmetic media stunts.”
Educationist Steve Sharra commends the firm—dealers in construction, plumbing, electrical and safety supplies—for coming to the rescue of children at Natiswe. He says everyone has a role to play in raising education standards in the country.
He explains: “We must all hold hands to ensure our education system is operating in a conducive learning environment. Good classrooms motivate both learners and teachers.
“When it rains no teacher would want to teach under a tree and no student would want to sit under a tree. Let us work together for the common good.”