Malawi’s civil society bang heads on compulsory education

Promise Zalakata Kamanga – Lilongwe, Malawi: The issue of whether Malawi’s free primary education should become compulsory or not, dominated the civil society’s meeting in Lilongwe on Tuesday.

Eye of the Child, a child focused human rights organization, engaged the local civil society organizations to look at the observations made at the United Nations committee on the Children’s Rights Convention (CRC).

Making a presentation on whether the country was legally obliged to provide compulsory education, a University of Malawi Law expert, Chikosa Banda said as a signatory to the international instruments, Malawi was supposed to take a positive measure.

He however, quickly pointed out that the civil society could only lobby with government on the issue other than take it to court.

Executive Director of the Civil Society Coalition for Quality Basic Education (CSCQBE), a grouping of organizations that have special focus on education, Benedicto Kondowe said while the civil society was concerned, there was little it could do.

“The challenge is to what extent the civil society can push government to implement compulsory education. We know it is resource demanding but as a country we still needed to do something,” said Kondowe.

He however added that in Swaziland civil society groups managed to push for free primary education the courts.

Kondowe said if lobbying fails, the country’s civil society could try to do what their Swazi counterparts did.

Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), an umbrella body of local human rights organizations in the country, national coordinator Mabvuto Bamusi took the group to task on why they were failing to push for compulsory education.

Bamusi said it was not true that government can not afford to implement compulsory education because it was resource demanding.

“Why should it be difficult to provide compulsory education when it is possible to provide the same in other sectors? Government is able to provide compulsory vaccination to people, even provide police to round up those that are not willing,” he said.

Government has indicated recently that it is not ready to implement compulsory free primary education although several countries at the Universal Periodic Review conference in New York asked Malawi to adopt the system.

Malawi Government introduced free primary education in the year 1994 under the Bakili Muluzi and his United Democratic Front (UDF) administration but it remains voluntary.