Monday, September 29, 2008

Sharing the National Cake

My life has been a journey. I sat for primary school leaving certificate examinations (PSLC) twice, hoping for selection to Balaka Secondary School, but I ended up at Ulongwe MCDE Centre on the road to Mangochi.

My MSCE in 1996 was wonderful. Being the second group to sit for MSCE at Ulongwe MCDE, people did not expect much, really. Studying using a chikoloboyi at night was trouble.

But I managed to get 26 points and this was not easy. But remember that the first time I saw a test-tube was in a biology practical examination in the laboratory of St Charles Lwanga MCDE Centre at Balaka. And the examination was after midnight, because we were waiting for the owners of the school and those from Phalula MCDE Centre to finish.

Now compare my situation with someone who was at Zomba Catholic Secondary School, a school with a library, qualified teachers, a laboratory and electricity. You cannot begin to compare, you can only contrast. Then the next step was to travel to Blantyre to sit for the university entrance examination (UEE). I had no idea how it would be.

No wonder I was not selected to go the University of Malawi. I had 58in mathematics, 64 in language skills and 54 in reasoning skills. My average was 58.6. The minimum average for selection was 50 but because a lot of people performed a lot better than me, I was not picked.

After close to three years in the city, I was able to prepare for UEE in 1999. My great friend Rodney Mpinganjira coached me in maths. I read a lot of books and improved my reasoning skills.

Come selection, I was picked. Why? I will tell you. The questions I met during UEE were for city people, and I had become one. Our examinations are formed on the assumption that we all grow up in cities with exposure to electricity and technology and media and ideas. If I was in the city, I would have been picked at the first attempt of UEE because I was intelligent in all senses only that circumstances worked against me.

The solution to my dilemma and that of other rural folks is quota system. If it were quota system then, the university would have said, “look here, there is this boy from Balaka who has qualified to be selected but there are many above him. Let us give this rural folk from an MCDE centre without electricity the opportunity to study in the university.”

After giving such an opportunity to 200 or 250 rural folks, the university committee would select the rest on competition. Remember that I qualified for selection only that more people scored better than me, not because I was less intelligent but because I was not exposed to similar circumstances as town folks.

My plain view is that Malawi is living in a number of illusions. One of them is that merit means getting the best without considering circumstances of our young people, especially those growing up and living in remote areas. We have condemned them to their small corners of the country. We are keeping the education national cake to town folks, those who know a bulb, a socket, a tap and a kettle.

Another illusion is the law that bans matola on the assumption that we have an effective public transport when the majority of our people depend on matola.

We need to think through our situation and use laws and systems that suit our development needs. Let us ease transport problems by allowing matola in those areas where there are no buses. Let us adopt quota system and give the boy and girl in Hewe, Chididi or Khola a chance to eat from the national cake.


This piece is dedicated to my friend—well, he is my brother—Bright Molande who introduced me to Theory at MA level at Chancellor College. He is a great scholar whose reputation as a cultural theorist and postcolonial scholar is growing in Africa and Europe.

He left for Essex University, (outside London) for his Ph.D. This is where, years ago, he was the only African in a class of 49 and was the first to finish an MA programme meant for 12 months in nine months—and with a distinction! But now he will have to spend at least three years away. Bright, my heart goes with you. My heart remains with your family. I will be there when you come to take your family.

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