PRESS STATEMENT BY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN PARLIAMENT HONOURABLE KONDWANI NANKHUMWA, MP, ON 2019/20 FLAWED FORM 1 SELECTION
The 2019/20 selection of learners from Standard 8 in primary schools to Form 1 in public and national secondary schools in Malawi has raised very serious suspicion.
From what most Malawians have said, it is abundantly clear that the selection process was hugely marred by favouritism and political interference.
According to what I have gathered, 1,860 learners were selected to national secondary schools.
Among these,749 learners have been selected from the southern region; the central region has provided 929 ; and in the northern region, a negligible figure of 182 learners has been offered secondary school places.
In percentage terms, the southern region has 40%, and 50% and 10% for central and northern regions, respectively. While the central region has the lowest pass rate, it has been given lion’s share in selection of learners to national secondary schools.
Without delving into the technical aspects of the selection process or the criteria used to arrive at such a scenario, I also find the current situation grossly flawed, and only aimed at serving the interests of learners from other regions at the expense of the northern region learners.
For example, how can the government select only one Chitipa district learner to a national secondary school when there are 1,800 spaces available while Lilongwe rural west constituency alone is sending over 13 learners to one national secondary school?
Nine (9) learners from Dowa in the central region have been selected to two secondary schools each while a certain Karonga learner, who scored distinctions in all subjects, has not been selected to any secondary school. Obviously, these are anomalies that should be exposed.
From my humble understanding, all over the world, where public school places are limited, selection to those schools remains the benefit of learners within the same area (district or region in our case).
It is, therefore, only logical that I question the procedure that has been used where learners from the northern region have been denied access to national secondary schools, even for those who are based within their ecosystem.
It is clear that politicians may have interfered with the selection process. It is clear that there has been favouritism in the selection of learners into Form 1 to the detriment of deserving northern region learners’ future.
This is uncalled for and retrogressive in the new democratic Malawi where all citizens must enjoy equal rights, including the right to education.
I wish to express, in the strongest terms possible, my utmost disbelief at this turn of events, because it is just not right and inconceivable to have such an education system in this democratic dispensation.
In the Malawi Constitution, under Chapter IV, Bill of Rights, it is provided that all persons are entitled to education. Under the United Nations (UN) Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26 (1), “Everyone has the right to education.
Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit”.
The Government must never compromise on education if it is serious about the country’s meaningful social and economic development.
According to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4, education enables upward socioeconomic mobility and is a key to escaping poverty.
There had been long-standing concerns over how difficult it was for learners, especially from the northern region, to get a place in public secondary schools and universities owing to the ‘Quota System’.
Opponents of the Quota System vehemently argued that the core principle of educational equity requires that learners should not have their educational opportunities determined by their district, region or tribe.
It is for that reason that in 2019, the DPP Government, under His Excellency former President Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika, abolished the Quota System. The DPP Government fully engaged the people of the northern region, through the influential Livingstonia Synod of CCAP, to review the Form 1 selection policy with a view to look at processes from examination to selection.
Following consultations that took place from 28th September, 2019 to 18th October, 2019, the two parties agreed that:
1. National Secondary School places shall be allocated on the basis of merit across the country regardless of proximity and economic cost. This meant that use of Quota Policy in selecting learners to secondary schools fell away; 2. Equitable access policy shall be applied to cater for women and vulnerable for Form 1 places as it was a common practice the world over where school places are limited; and
3. Selection to district boarding school, district day and community day secondary schools shall remain the benefit of learners within the same district.
The DPP government committed itself to build more secondary schools across the country in order to equitably increase access to secondary education, and review all relevant policies to ensure equal access to quality education for all, including the allocation of university places.
It is, therefore, heart-breaking that despite political campaign rhetoric about abolishing the Quota System, the Tonse Government has reversed the selection policy decision that the DPP Government and the Livingstonia Synod made.
Indeed, President Lazarus Chakwera informed Malawians on the campaign trail in the run-up to the 23rd June, 2020 court-sanctioned fresh presidential election that he would not only end the Quota System but “bury it” too.
I therefore demand that the President and his Tonse Alliance administration must implement what they promised Malawians on the Quota System.
While it may practically be difficult and costly to nullify the entire selection process, there are some isolated instances, which require urgent review and correction.
For example, the case of northern region learners being denied national secondary school space even in secondary schools within their region should be looked into and corrected as a matter of urgency.
I wish to strongly advise the Tonse Alliance Government to desist from politicizing education in this country.
Memories are still fresh in the minds of Malawians, mainly from the northern region, how the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) regime used education to persecute and disadvantage some sections of the society.
It is widely documented that in the late 1980s, the MCP regime ordered all teachers of northern origin to return to their home region.
This was one of the most disturbing and shocking declarations by a regime whose leader preached about One Malawi and One Nation.
As a nation, we must jealously guard against the return of such autocratic tendencies.
HONOURABLE KONDWANI NANKHUMWA, MP LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN PARLIAMENT
10th JANUARY 2021