Lack of boarding facilities leads to low girls’ education

Several weeks ago, Amy covered the topic of girls’ education in Malawi here on Ed4Girls. Another article has since been published about boarding facilities and their role in drop-out rates. Evance Chisiano, writer for the Malawi News Agency, begins this article with the all-encompassing statement, “South East Education Division (SEED) has attributed poor academic performance among girls to inadequate boarding facilities and long distances to school.”

Where shall I begin? SEED. We will start with SEED. What is it? What does it encompass? Why do they have the authority to determine what is causing poor academic performance amongst girls? Which leads me to my second point: WHICH girls? The title of the article suggests Chisiano is speaking only about the district of Machinga, but the article doesn’t specify.

Chisiano then reports that McGregory Alufandika, SEED manager, claims many girls do not participate in higher education because of socio-economic and infrastructural factors. Whoa. I thought she just said they don’t participate due to “inadequate boarding facilities and long distances to school”? What changed in three paragraphs? I will theorize that the “infrastructural factors” mentioned refer to the inaccessibility to/a lack of boarding facilities; I will also assume that, due to low family income (the “socio-economic factors”), girls either cannot find boarding facilities or they cannot afford to board themselves near their schools. This must be where the distance factor comes in, as mentioned in Chisiano’s initial statement.

Finally, Chisiano gives insight as to what SEED encompasses: the districts of Zomba, Machinga, Balaka, and Mangochi.  Now I am very confused about what I am reading. I had assumed, being written in Machinga, that she was only speaking about Machinga, but perhaps she is writing about the entire Division. The title specifically refers to girls’ education in Machinga, but with the main source being from SEED I would postulate that this evidence can be applied to all four districts in the South East Education Division.

Chisiano then briefly mentions that the dropout rate is higher in these districts due to early marriages and pregnancies. Ok, lady. Pick one. So far we have been told that girls do not attend high school:

  1. because there are inadequate boarding facilities.
  2. because there are long distances between home and school.
  3. because of socio-economic factors.
  4. because of infrastructural factors.
  5. due to early marriage.
  6. due to pregnancy.

Coming from the Malawi News Agency, I would expect the facts to be simple and straightforward. We now have six reasons why girls do not participate in higher education, blossoming from the original two. Since all of these are valid causes leading to high female dropout rates, it seems the article should have a different title. It isn’t only the lack of boarding schools leading to low girls’ education, but all six of the factors listed above – and possibly more.

At this point in the article, the distance factor comes back into play. Chisiano quotes an interview with a female secondary student who walks 15 kilometers each day in an area where rape and murder is prevalent. She says she is always exhausted at school and can’t focus, resulting in poor grades.

The entire conclusion of the article then focuses on the current work by local organizations to provide items to female students such as cooking pots, school bags, etc. Excuse me, but where did this come from? I thought we were talking about boarding schools.

If SEED is, in fact, focusing on boarding schools, this is a very timely and realistic solution. A much better, evidence-based article has emerged from the British newspaper, The Telegraph. The chairman of the Boarding Schools Association is arguing to build more boarding facilities and to find additional funding for children who cannot afford boarding. His case includes the positive economic implications of boarding facilities, pertaining to both time spent traveling and the cost of transportation, and explains to the average lay-person (such as myself) why the UK is working to expand access to boarding facilities. Perhaps Chisiano should take note.

Chisiano, E. (2013, October 22). Inadequate boarding facilities blamed for low girls’ education in Machinga. Malawi News Agency Online. Retrieved from http://www.manaonline.gov.mw/index.php/national/education/item/498-inadequate-boarding-facilities-blamed-for-low-girls-education-in-machinga.

Paton, G. (2013, October 28). Expanding state boarding ‘to eliminate lengthy school commutes’. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/10407751/Expand-state-boarding-to-eliminate-lengthy-school-commutes.html.

 

****The original article was pulled from the Internet; however a copy of the story can still be found at http://allafrica.com/stories/201310230150.html.

Fighting for Girls’ Education in Malawi

In Malawi,  Muslim leaders are fighting for the right to girls’ education stemming from recent reports of high drop out rates for girls.  Blaming “societal and cultural norms” for the unequal education girls receive in Malawi, Sheikh Denala Chabulika, National Coordinator of the Islamic Information Bureau, explicably states that there is nothing in Islam that prevents girls from going to school.  People are simply hiding behind religion to justify the discrimination in schooling practices.   In order to combat such long standing cultural views, Muslim leaders from the Islamic Information Bureau has stared a dive to educate girls and do so by offering scholarships.  Activists are quite pleased with the action, calling it a “landmark” in the pursuit of achieving the Education For All goal.

This seems like a great first step for not only a nation that has a large population out of school but for any nation where girls struggle to attain equal footing in education.  The importance of using leaders who are respected in the community is undeniable but is this enough to change long-standing beliefs? Sheikh Chabulika is quoted as saying:

“The danger is that if we don’t rise up and take the challenge to address this trend, it would eventually be universally accepted that the teachings of Islam prevent girls from accessing education.”

And even if the people come to realize that in Islam there are no restrictions for equal education for boys and girls, there are plenty of other cultural reasons people could cite as reasons to keep their girls home.  Are these issues being addressed? For girls to want to be educated and for a society to embrace education, it is important that they not only address the barriers, like education and culture, but they also address the benefits of sending the girls to school. If the benefits lay unaddressed, they may be sent to school for a short while, but it seems that they’ll be take right out again as soon as something else, like the birth of another child, comes up. People need to be shown that educating girls will have long standing affects for the community and family.

The article states that a lack of role models for the girls is a reason behind the high drop out rates, where parents feel as though it is a waste of resources to send their female children to school. Obviously Sheikh Chabulika realizes that the girls lack strong female role models, but what is he doing to rectify this situation? The article says he’s sending out cultural leaders to the communities in order to make the change but are any of these people women? In an inspirational article in the UK’s Daily Mail, a photographer dressed her daughter up as heroines  instead of the usual Disney princesses to introduce her at a young age to strong role models.  Though the idea would have to be culturally relevant, Malawi can do similar creative ways to give girls the role models that they need. If they are given scholarships, what is to keep them from dropping out again if they still have no example of what it means to be a strong woman?

Finally, it makes me wonder if other nations will follow suit.  In an area plagued by inequality, hopefully other nations will take notice and make similar changes.  We’ll just have to watch and see.

Source:

Abubaker, K. (n.d.). OnIslam.net. Malawi Muslims Champion Girls’ Educations. Retrieved October 8, 2013, from http://www.onislam.net/english/news/africa/464552-malawi-muslims-champion-girls-educations.html