Updated: Sep 30, 2022
Located about 60 kilometers south-east of Phalombe District Council headquarters, Pweremwe Primary School is one of the schools in Nkhulambe zone. The school is in Mulula village, Group Village Headman Mulula, Traditional Authority Nkhulambe. According to the Letasi Kankhun-da, headteacher for the school, the school has been experiencing various challenges associated with lack of structures and teaching approaches that are pro-inclusive education hence limiting the learning potentials of some learners with special needs. Apart from that, the school has been experiencing high dropout rates especially for girls due to early pregnancies, forced child marriages, long distances from home to the school for some children, lack of role models in the community, and lack of learning resources due to poverty.
Despite having high rates of school dropouts, there were no mechanisms by the school and the community to follow up on the dropout learners in order to make efforts towards their readmission. In short, the school used to be an unsafe learning environment for children, especially girls to be kept in school. This was the case before the coming of Girl Get Equal (Nzotheka) project to the school in 2020. “We experienced high dropout rates, for instance, 177 learners dropped out of school in 2019 of which 121 were girls. Luckily, we received training for headteachers and senior class teachers here at Nkhulambe zone. We were trained on readmission policy, inclusive education and gender-responsive teaching.” Kankhunda explained.
According to Kanthunda, the training was a wake-up call for the teachers to start teaching in such a way that both girls and boys equally benefit from the lessons without one gender feeling inferior to the other. The training also ignited the desire to strongly work with the community members towards improving structures at the school for the sake of inclusive education. This desire was triggered at the right time as GGE project on the other hand established and trained Safe School Committee whose role is to ensure that the learning environment at the school is conducive to keeping both boys and girls in school.
“We learned from the GGE training on how to keep girls in school and make all other learners including those with special needs feel safe here at school. Together with the School Manage-ment Committee, we constructed ramps for wheelchairs, starting with the standard 8 class block because we had a learner Luka Mateyo in standard 8 who was using a wheelchair.”- explained Divason Kalanje, chairperson of the Safe School Committee.
According to him, Luka Mateyo used to be helped by friends to be carried up by hand to have his wheelchair get into the classroom but now with the ramps constructed, he was able to easily cycle his wheelchair on his own to get into the classroom. The ramps were not constructed for Luka alone but for all learners in the future who will need to use wheelchairs to get into the classroom.
“The ramps are really good for inclusive education, and we have already started seeing the fruits thereof. Luka Mateyo has just been selected to Phalombe Secondary School after passing the examinations with flying colors” – Kankhunda proudly explained. According to Luka, it was so hard for him to get into class as his friends had to carry him and the wheelchair in class.
“When the ramps were constructed, it became so easy for me to get into the class. Now I have finished my primary school and going to secondary school… my dream is to become a doctor.” Luka narrated.
Martin Mateyu, Luka’s father hopes that Phalombe Secondary School will also treat Luka well just as Pweremwe Primary School did. “He [Luka] is an intelligent child and only needs good support from the school. It is my plea to Phalombe Secondary School to support him well like he was supported here.” – Mateyu expressed his wish.
Apart from constructing the ramps in collaboration with the School Management Committee, the Safe School Committee also works with the mother group who were trained by the GGE project to make follow-ups on dropout girls and help retrieve children from early and forced marriages. The mother group also provides psychosocial support for the readmitted girls to keep them in school. GGE (Nzotheka) is a 5-year NORAD-funded project in which CRECCOM is implementing the Keeping Girls in School component in partnership with PLAN International.