Monday, 23 August 2010

Dedza reels under high population growth

With a population of 624,445 people (2008 Population and Housing Census), 56 per cent of which are young people under 19, the population of Dedza district is expected to reach 1 million in 15 years.
Kapalamula Primary School is a typical Malawian institution of education with its six classroom blocks overlooking a dusty playground and located on the outskirts of Dedza town.
Formerly a refugee camp, the school was opened in 1994 as a junior primary school but due to the rapid population growth around the area, classes were increased from Standard 4 to Standard 7.
Today, the school has 1,328 pupils and six classrooms catering for 12 classes. It goes without saying that while six classes are being conducted inside the classrooms, six others are outside, learning under trees or following the shadow of the classroom blocks to escape the heat.
According to headteacher Florence Kapatuka Donda, the Parents Teacher Association has K184,300 in its fund to construct another school block of two classes.
“If the parents fail, the Std 7 pupils will be transferred and there is nowhere for them to go. The enrollment at Dedza Government Primary School is already 2,000 and they have 16 classes. The parents are doing their best but they can no longer manage,” she says.
The office block was built with funding from a donor in Norway while a UK donor has promised to provide iron sheets for the new classroom block, which is yet to be built because the PTA fund is not adequate.
Kapalamula School also suffers under the perennial shortage of teachers, teaching and learning materials and poor sanitation.
The enrollment of pupils does not match the number toilets. There are four toilets each for girls and boys which are not in good condition due to the high number of children at the school.
Because Kapalamula is registered as a junior primary school, the District Education Management (DEM) office gave them 10 textbook each for subjects like Agricuture, English and Geography. That’s 10 books for 99 learners in Std 7.
Desks are not available in the Std 6 and 7 and only because they came with the school blocks built with funding from the European Union. It was not for EU, all pupils at Kapalamula would be learning sitting on the cold floor.
There is no headteacher’s house at the school so when a parent needs a transfer letter urgently, Donda says if lucky, he will meet her on the way from the maize mill.
To hear the story of Kapalamula, you would think it is a private school run by trustees with no management experience. Why should parents pay K100 every term towards the construction of school blocks when it is the responsibility of government to provide education to its people?
However, Donda says support from government comes in the form of exercise books, some textbooks and salaries for teachers.
The school has no school feeding programme, Donda says, despite that most of its pupils come from poor households from across the Mozambican border but malnutrition of children aged less than five years is at 42 per cent.
Due to the high population and poverty in the area surrounding the school, parents prefer to send their children to primary school when they are too young.
In the Kapalamula headteacher’s view, mothers around the are have too many children and like to offload them to overworked teachers because they can’t look after them.
“We have children as young as 4 years coming to start Std 1 because the mother has too many children at home that she can’t manage to care for them all,” she states in her wisdom.
According to Malawi Education Survey of 2007, the pupil teacher ratio in Dedza is 89:1 when it should be 60:1; there are 130 pupils to one pit latrine when it should 30:1 and there are 111 pupils to one class when it should 60:1.
According to the 2008 Population and Housing Census (PHC) Dedza has a very young population, 349, 861 of the total population of 624,445 people in the district are aged below 19.
Because of the such a high population of young people, at 57 per cent nationally, and going by the current total fertility rate of 6.3, a scenario by the RAPID, a document which aims to raise awareness on the impact of high population on development, puts the population of Malawi at 40 million by 2040.
Director of planning at Dedza District Council Robert Kanyesi, 137,763 people were born in Dedza between 1998 and 2008, representing a growth rate of 28.3 per cent.
The implication has been that there are now more consumers but less producers of goods and services putting a strain on the few agriculture, health and education resources.
“This district cannot take a population high than it is now. Already we have few qualified teachers, we have inadequate or inferior education infrastructure and there is poor retention of girls in schools,” he said.
Primary gross enrollment in Dedza district is at 111 per cent but only 86 per cent are still in school because by the time pupils reach Std 8, half the enrollment drops, especially among girls.
“Due to the high population of this district, there is shortage of qualified primary school teachers but also poor participation of schools committees and their communities in the school management,” he says.
While the Dedza district executive committee agrees that the population of Dedza is too high compared to the resources available, they can’t seem to agree on the solutions.
T/A Kachere testifies that if the population continues to grow at the current pace in Dedza, in future development of the district will stagnate because land conflicts will be rife.
“Nobody will be willing to give away their land for development purposes. If people are already fighting over small pieces of land, what will happen in future?” the chief wonders.
Senior Chief Kachindamoto says people in rural areas have to understand the benefits of having smaller families because the problems being experienced now will only worsen.
She says it should be up to traditional leaders to understand the impact of high population growth on food availability, provision of education and access to health.
“It is clear that if we are having such problems now, they will only become worse in future. We need to explain to our subjects where we are going wrong,” she says.

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