ODEL students at MZUNI's ODL centre in Karonga
For youths like 19-year-old Ericha Harawa and Saulosi Mbisa from Fulirwa CDSS, deep in the outskirts of Karonga, accessing university education was but a mere dream, one farfetched reality they could never envisage being put into fruition. This was due to the information gaps such rural CDSS students have regarding opportunities for higher education.
ODEL students at MZUNI's ODL center in Karonga Access to higher education is almost a nightmare for many rural youths. This is because most universities rely on electronic and print newspaper adverts which are hardly accessed by the youth in rural areas.
Apart from the channels of communication, Malawian universities rely much on physical learning and residential space as a determinant of the number of students to be enrolled in courses at the institution. However, with the coming of ODEL coupled with digital media, many students are being served hence increasing the number of skilled youths who undergo tertiary education. In 2021/2022 National Council For Higher Education(NCHE) released names of successful candidates for the 6 public universities of which out of 14083 applicants,7410 were selected leaving out a whole 6,673 youth with options of private institutions which are more expensive and hence not accessible to the underprivileged. As a result, they end up giving up on ever undergoing tertiary education.
For Ericha Harawa, getting a chance to study at MZUNI seemed impossible till it came true due to SHEAMA’s short courses that are available from the activity funded by USAID. She explained how she had no hope of accessing university education after passing her Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) Exams at Fulirwa CDSS in T/A Wasambo, Karonga.
“I used to look at myself and think that MSCE would be the furthest I can go with my education, not until I got to hear from our teachers about SHEAMA short courses whose information was shared by CRECCOM.
Ericha attests that the awareness-raising campaign conducted by Creative Centre for Community Mobilization (CRECCOM) helped rural youths like her to get such crucial information which has resulted in rural youths getting the current opportunity of studying a community and primary healthcare promoter course at Mzuzu University which so far, has equipped her with not only academic knowledge but also computer literacy.
Saulosi Mbisa from the same Fulirwa CDSS explained how learning under ODel has been eye-opening in technological spectrum as he was not aware of the innovation of learning other than in face to face.“ODeL is good and very beneficial, it is not that demanding as I can split my time between learning while at home, offering my help in our family farm work, to submitting assignments later on, I have noted that it does not restrict one hence conducive even for those working different jobs,” adds Mbisa.
Mzuni’s Karonga ODL Manager Mr. Albert Harawa hailed the initiative citing that it has helped spread the message about ODeL to the local communities. Harawa said, “it is interesting to see young girls and boys now coming to this center to attain higher education, this was not common as ODeL was being embraced mainly by those already working, for example, primary school teachers”.
This shows that it is not a matter of preference of the youths to stay idle but instead, they lack information on available courses.
Another MZUNI ODel student, Joseph Rodwell Mwalweni who studied at Mwenilondo CDSS, T/A Kyungu in Karonga agrees that lack of access to information renders the youth helpless. I was lucky that I got the information on the call for applications from a friend who is a teacher. He adds that without that, he would have missed out on this chance to enroll in this short course which is affordable and convenient. He said.
For Ericha, Saulos, Joseph, and others who have embraced the short courses, a new light shines as they look forward to their future as health service providers. They are living their dream by exploring ODel using the mobile technology they are mastering. The 5 university partners in SHEAMA offering these short- and long-term programs are the University of Malawi (UNIMA), Mzuzu University (MZUNI), Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR), Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST) and the Malawi University of Business and Applied Sciences (MUBAS).