By Malawi News Agency

Primary education is not free in Mzimba South as learners are asked to pay money which is in sharp contrast with government policy which stipulates that no pupil will, directly or indirectly, pay for basic education.

A survey carried out by Mzimba Education Network (MZIDEN) has revealed that teachers and school management committee (SMCs) come up with norms which force pupils to pay money to finance certain school activities.

MZIDEN Chairperson Techson Amadu recently told education stakeholders that the survey the network carried out in the area of Inkosi Khosolo revealed that teachers and school management committee (SMCs) are forcing pupils to pay money for certain school activities.

He said learners pay K2, 000 as development fund, K2, 000 for water bills, for schools with access to private water points, K2, 000 administration fees and K150 for examination report card processing.

Amadu added that the learners contribute one tin (about 20 kilograms) of maize each to support teachers’ development centers (TDCs).

“Parents with pupils in Standard 8 shoulder a huge burden as they have to dig deep into their pockets to also pay K1000 as mock test fee and K2000 for Malawi National Examination Board (MANEB) identity card (ID),” he said.

District Education Manager (DEM) for Mzimba South Funwel Chiwowa described trends of demanding money from pupils as a serious anomaly in basic education system.

“Primary education is free in Malawi. Therefore, no pupil will be asked to pay directly or indirectly towards his or her education,” Chiwowa said.

The DEM, however, said some of the money pupils are asked to pay in some schools is the arrangement by the SMCs and teachers, which have the blessing from a wider community.

He cited K2000 development fund, which SMCs in some schools strongly defend as parents’ contribution towards implementation of small scale development projects at the institutions.

“Some SMCs agree with communities around the schools to charge pupils development fund, which is a mistake as it does not have the blessings of the government,” Chiwowa said.

On administration fee, the DEM said there is no provision for the fund in primary school and wondered the purpose it serves.

He gave a nod to K1000 mock test fee for printing examinations which was arrived at by the education service committee, as a reform area, to improve pass rates in primary schools.

Chiwowa, however, said the challenge in asking pupils to pay something to the school is that the resources are at risk of being abused since there is no one to demand accountability.

Chiwowa was non-committal on K2000 for MANEB ID which he said was a requirement of the examination body with an objective of identifying students who are to sit for examinations.

“The ID is a requirement by MANEB to easily identify students and to check cheating in examinations and that is an independent arrangement that cannot be questioned,” Chiwowa said.

The DEM then hailed MZIDEN for carrying out the survey saying it had unearthed sticky issues requiring urgent attention by his office.

During the meeting, stakeholders took turns to condemn in strong terms tendencies by schools to demand money from pupils which they said was negatively affecting education standards in primary schools.

One Mother Group member lamented that pupils from poor families who cannot afford to pay something are kicked out of class, which brings room for pupils to drop out and with some, especially girls, opting to go for early marriages.

Government introduced free primary education in 1994 with an objective of increasing access to education by all children, irrespective of their families’ economic status.

ActionAid funded the survey which was conducted in 17 primary schools in Kawena, Unyolo and Kanjuchi educational zones, in Traditional Authority Khosolo.

It focused on management of school improvement grants, promotion of rights in schools and the impact of assistant teachers,

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