Wednesday, 2 December 2009
Throwing the Baby out with the Bath Water:
Throwing the Baby out with the Bath Water:
Malawi School Closure
Come December 7 2009, there might be chaos and panic amongst thousands of Malawian families. The day marks the opening of new school calendar year and some parents have found out that their children have no school. What is the reason? The Ministry of Education closed down a number of private schools in Malawi that had been found as not in shape to operate as private schools. The blame game starts. Is it Bingu? Is it Bakili? Is it Kamuzu? Is it Mzuzu Corner? Is it Diaspora rhetoric? Well, I would blame Malawi and Malawians and let us all stand and be counted to resolve the challenge.
Well, let us start from why private schools mushroomed. First with population growth, more schools were needed. Second, with free primary education introduced in 1994, even more schools and teachers were needed. The 1994 policy of free education produced a wonderful opportunity for new line of business. Never before had an opportunity arisen to commercialise education. Business in many parts of the world including Malawi is copy-cat. Thus private education movement was born. Former night clubs and taverns, Crop warehouses, private homes and shops overnight became schools in urban and semi urban areas. Those audacious enough built new structures.
Perhaps what was not questioned was the capacity available to run and manage these schools, the health and safety of the structures and the education standards. 15 years later, Government decides that the cancer has to be stopped from spreading and rightly so. Perhaps many of our young persons who joined education stream in mid 1990s have had their future destroyed because of poor education foundation. Perhaps most private school owners paid more attention to their rightful need for profit and neglected the services being provided. Conceivably the regulatory regime was not ready to manage the new industry. The cancer therefore has to be stopped from spreading.
Stopping the cancer from spreading is not easy as we all know. If Doctors decided that the best way to relieve cancer patients is just to take away their lives, everyone will scream, Murderers! I believe there is a better way of stopping the cancer from spreading. Here are a few thoughts. The first step is to set minimum standards of what an education facility should have, which I believe the Ministry has done. This should set standards for facilities, qualification of teachers, curriculum, pupil-teacher ratio, health and safety etc. The second step is to benchmark all education facilities against these standards. The third step is to decide which of the education facilities could be improved with owners’ investment, which ones could be improved with Government intervention and which ones are beyond redemption.
For the facilities that require investment (either public or private), a discussion/negotiations should be held with owners. The Government should negotiate for credit facilities (soft loans) to support the investment requirements and Government should be party to the loan agreement to ensure the resources are used for the intended purpose. The Government could also introduce mobile training for the unqualified teachers and school managers.
For those that are beyond redemption a further thought should be taken regarding what should happen to the students when the facility is closed. This is important as education is a right and to have thousands of children out of school and no one is fending for them is inhuman and criminal. A similar consideration should be given to the other two categories. It is most likely that the existing Government education facilities cannot take over all the pupils and students that are out of schools as a result of closure.
If such consideration had been given, perhaps some schools could have been saved through a public-private sector or private-private partnerships and quick investment could have been made.
What is clear is that in throwing out the dirty bath water, the Government has thrown out the baby as well and innocent children will in the next months be denied the right to education.
For transparency and as way forward, The Ministry of Education should publish the School Closure Report so that parents, students and interested public may know the reasons for closure of each facility and what recommendations have been made for the owners to redress. Perhaps certain schools could be redeemed by communities that have been affected.