Shakira is delighted with the new desks at her school

Shakira stands up to answer a question in the new classroom
© UNICEF Malawi/2019/Lulutani Tembo

By Lulutani Tembo UNICEF Malawi

Whistles, bustles, singing, and dancing. This was the atmosphere at Nankhali Primary School on 29th March 2019 when learners saw a truck loaded with desks arriving at the school. The primary school is located in rural Lilongwe. An area where many households struggle to make ends meet. The school itself had been disadvantaged for a very long time. It only had five classrooms for a population of nearly 2000 students.  The classrooms were run down, with many learners sitting on the floor during lessons, with about 750 children having lessons outside.

Shakira Kazembe, a 15-year-old standard seven student at the school was part of the group of learners who ran to the trucks that delivered the desks on that joyous day in March. “The day the desks were brought to the school, all the children were excited. The moment they saw the truck driving in, they all ran to the truck and helped carry the desks to the classrooms. There was so much joy, and everybody was thrilled for the new face of Nankhali”, Shakira reveals. “I also joined the crowd to help them put the desks in the classrooms.” She added.

Shakira is the first born in a family of three children. Her mother sells samosas for a living at a nearby market. The family lives an hour walk away from the school. “I usually leave the house at 6 am for school, and I arrive there at 7. My mother is a single mother and struggles to buy my school materials, such as notebooks, school uniform. My father left for South Africa when I was very young, I was only 6 months old . He has never helped me with any of my school needs”, Shakira explains.

In the face of the challenges at home, Shakira works hard in school. For the past three terms, she has finished in the top 3 of her class. This is also despite having learned in harsh conditions, outside, under a tree with no desk.

“Before we received desks, it was difficult for us girls to participate in class. We were shy to stand up in class to ask questions. Learning outside was also distracting. We would look at people walking by instead of focusing on learning”, Shakira describes.

Junior students cheer for their new desks and classrooms
© UNICEF Malawi/2019/Lameck Luhanga

Support from UNICEF

Nankhali Primary School has 1,752 children. There were previously five classrooms at the school, but thanks to UNICEF Germany, the school now has an additional six classrooms. A library, an administration block and toilet blocks for girls, boys and teachers were also constructed at the school. Money to build the new school blocks was raised from a TV special hosted by football star Mats Hummels on German TV. UNICEF has also supported the school with 2,800 story books and 2,300 text books.

In complementing the efforts to bring quality education in a conducive learning environment, the KIND Fund provided  240 desks to Nankhali Primary School in late March. MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell created the ground-breaking KIND Fund with UNICEF in 2010 to support education in Malawi. Since then, the program has provided desks to over 900,000 learners across Malawi, contributing to 10% of the desks in the country. It has raised over $21 million for desks and girls’ scholarships thanks to MSNBC TV station and viewers of ‘The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.’

A better learning experience

The new classrooms and desks have entirely changed the learning experience for female students  like Shakira. “Now our classrooms look smart with the desks, and we’re able to write better in class, compared to before when we would put our exercise books on our laps,” she explains. “Learning outside was difficult with when it was rainy and windy.  Every time it rained we were told to go home. It was a big obstacle to our learning. Now we no longer this experience since we are now in classrooms. When it rains we’re able to proceed with our work normally”.

The school has also received an influx of new learners since receiving the desks. Shakira explains that her class got three new learners who transferred to her school after they heard about the developments at Nankhali. Deputy Headteacher, Mr. Gwedere also explains that close to 100 children have come to the school since the desks were delivered to Nankhali.

Shakira outside her classroom with her best friend
© UNICEF Malawi/2019/Lulutani Tembo

“Prior to receiving the desks, many children would also transfer to other schools by the time they were in standard 5 to move to schools with desks. Since receiving the desks, we have had no children transferring out to other schools, instead we have had children enroll in the school. We would receive 5 to 6 children wanting to enroll out our school”, Mr. Gwedere explains. “Absenteeism has also reduced, now we have had children attending class more. Teaching has become easier for the teachers too. It is easier for them to attend to learners who need assistance because they’re sitting in organized rows that make them easily reachable”.

Mr. Gwedere believes that the desks can help improve the learner’s performance too. “The learning environment is better for both teachers and students. This can influence students’ performance and encourage more involvement in class. The children are happy and motivated”, he says.

The school also previously had very few toilets. Children would go to the bushes to relieve themselves. As a result, some would get ill, since it was unhygienic. The recent construction of new toilets has eliminated these problems.

In the meantime, the new face of Nankhali Primary School is a big step towards making it an ideal child-friendly school. Children like Shakira no longer need to worry about learning outside, on the dust infested ground with rocks. “I like the design of the desks because they have a chair attached. Learning is so much better, and I told my mom about it too. Now everybody in our area is admiring our school”, Shakira utters. “When I grow up I want to be a nurse, I know that I am in charge of my future. I always tell myself to work hard in school, so I can have a bright future”.

Students cheering at the desks being delivered at their school.
© UNICEF Malawi/2019/Gwedere

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