Increasing access to secondary education

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Vanessa walking through the route she takes to school every day in Ndirande. © UNICEF Malawi/2018/Thoko Chikondi

Increasing access to secondary education through a double shift school system

By Lulutani Tembo, UNICEF Malawi

Vanessa Kanzati is seated by the school hall. While she doesn’t have classes for several hours, she is studying as hard as she can. That’s because she goes to a double shift school and only has four hours of class each school day. She needs every spare moment to get ahead.

Ndirande Hill Secondary School sees two cohorts of students each day who go to classes that are 30 minutes long. One cohort attends classes in the morning and another in the afternoon. The two shifts alternate every week and each has their own set of teachers.

“Being a student at a double shift school has its benefits,” says Vanessa, “If it’s a week where my classes are in the morning, I am able to use the afternoons to study, and vice versa.”

“It’s especially helpful when we don’t have lights at home at night when there is no electricity. We know that the next day we can study while we wait for our classes to begin.”

The double shift school system started in Malawi in 2002, and is supported by UNICEF with the aim of increasing access to secondary education. While enrollment rates, particularly in urban areas, are already high, there simply aren’t enough secondary schools for students to attend. So many secondary schools are now moving towards a double shift system.

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NHSS Headteacher Mr. Kawalala interacting with students at the school
© UNICEF Malawi/2018/Thoko Chikondi

A system of opportunities and challenges

Ndirande Hill Secondary School is in Ndirande, Malawi’s largest township, with a catchment of more than 200,000 people. The double shift system created an opportunity for not only children in Ndirande to attend secondary school, but also some from neighboring townships in urban Blantyre.

“We have students enrolling in our school from places as far as Machinjiri, Kameza, and Chirimba,” says head teacher, Mr. Kawalala, “As school management, we insist on helping students plan their free time well. We put students from different shifts into study groups, so when they’re waiting for classes they can study in the library together.”

He said most of the students are doing well in school because the learning environment is encouraging students to study and they are always excited to go to the library to work.

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Vanessa interacting with her math teacher Mrs. Nyirenda in class.
© UNICEF Malawi/2018/Thoko Chikondi

The secondary school has a total 594 boys and 532 girls, contributing to a pass rate of 90 percent for the past few years. Teachers are also reaping benefits from the system because they have more free time to prepare for lessons.

“We have more free time as teachers to mark students work. However, the reduced learning time for students is a challenge,” explains Bernadette Nyirenda, a math teacher.

“With 30 minutes for each class, we have to teach the students at a faster pace than usual and there’s not enough time for questions to discuss issues students don’t understand.”

Nyirenda said the short classes means she has to promote study groups for the students to work extra hard and help each other with subjects they may be struggling with in class.

Vanessa’s mom Mary Kanzati, is aware of the challenges the system faces. Particularly regarding the short learning hours. Nevertheless, she believes the secret to children succeeding at a double shift school is having the right mindset and encouragement from their parents.

“Support from parents and coping mechanisms are necessary to make sure that children can perform well at a double shift school”,  Mary says. “I am always encouraging Vanessa to study in her free time, and whenever exams are around the corner I don’t give her house chores during the week because I want her to focus on school”.

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Vanessa and her mother at their Ndirande home. Her mother is very proud of her.
© UNICEF Malawi/2018/Thoko Chikondi

UNICEF supports the Double Shift System

UNICEF supports the Malawi Government’s work to run a double shift secondary school system. UNICEF’s investment in secondary education ensures that young people are leaving school with the skills they require to get a good job and remain healthy and productive adults.

“Helping the government find affordable ways to address the challenge of providing students with access to secondary school is very important,” says UNICEF Malawi Chief of Basic Education and Youth Development, Kimanzi Muthengi.

“We want to ensure that a generation of young people, and especially girls, will not be forced to end their education after primary school, leaving them with limited skills to start their lives.”

He said children who don’t get the opportunity to go to secondary school can become victims of child labour, violence, exploitation and early marriage.

For now, Vanessa is protected against the pitfalls of dropping out of school. She wants to be a computer scientist when she grows up. Having finished third in her class last term, she is well on the way.

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