After a week of the re-opening of contemporary schools for the summer term following a holiday session, some students have not reported back as the school calendar has this year collided with that of traditional schools where youths are taught indigenous knowledge and skills.
The development has sparked a debate that the traditional school, especially the cultural rite of passage ceremony, will impact negatively on the performance of the western styled education system when yet others think it is the western system that has negatively impacted on the traditional system.
Apart from attending the western styled education system, which trains locals to mirror European or American cultures, many Malawian societies still raise their populations by equipping them, individually or in groups, with indigenous collaborative survival skills on how best to fight for resources and how to play different roles in their respective societies.
The local training system, which starts from the family unit to community traditional schools, are long held structures that have served local populations with knowledge provision and acquisition but have since been diluted by the introduction of western knowledge systems through the country’s colonial powers.
Cultural experts say that indigenous education, which reflects the values, wisdom and expectations of the local community or wider society is different from western education, which emphasizes on individual intellectual development than on societal needs and expectations.
In recognition of the two systems, government maintained the annual summer session of the traditional schools while it gave contemporary schools a holiday during the same period to facilitate preservation of cultural knowledge and skills.
James Thole, the Senior Arts Officer in the Ministry of Culture says traditionally, the months of July and August are set to celebrate farm harvests as well as the beginning of the new harvest season.
“The celebrations are marked by cultural expressions such as traditional dances, festivals and rites including initiation ceremonies where families handover their young boys and girls transiting from childhood to adulthood to learn “the ways of life” from selected elder community members,” he says.
However, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic which disrupted the school calendar for western fashioned leaners due to closures last year, the summer holiday has this year been trimmed to only two weeks instead of the original two months which facilitated attendance to the traditional schools’ session.
It is reported that as western fashioned schools re-opened across the country last Monday, many students in Balaka, Machinga and Mangochi districts did not show up for classes as they were still at their traditional school camps.
Traditional Authority Makanjira, whose area has been greatly affected in Mangochi district admits that some camps are still open in his area and that he has since summoned local chiefs to explain why they have allowed such things to happen when they should have heeded the new contemporary school calendar.
Meanwhile, Makanjila has ordered the demolition of some cultural schools and has since released 208 children.
Free Expression Institute, National Coordinator, Peter Jegwa, has condemned the demolition exercise saying that if it was done to force students to attend the western styled education system then it is wrong.
“If they have been forced out because they should go to the other school, then it is worrisome,” he says pointing out that it could have been understandable if they were released for contravening Covid-19 restrictions and measures.
“Our culture has already given up much to western influence and control and this new development may signal the death of our cultural expressions,” says the freedom of expression activist who observes “killing our cultural expressions, which have over the years made a lot of adjustments to conform to the western culture, is not what the country’s architects of democracy wanted”.
Jegwa notes that the removal of the two-month summer holiday, which was deliberately set to observe and practice culture and tradition as well as to give room for farmland preparations, undermines both the country’s culture and food security.
Thole says: “Whilst appreciating the fact that the school calendar has been adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, there is need to strike a balance between the formal and informal education because both contribute to the growth and development of an individual,” he says advising authorities to be proactive in sensitising communities about the changes in the school calendar so that they adjust accordingly.
African cultural study experts believe that the imposition of the western education was meant to inculcate the values of the colonial society and to train individuals to the serve the colonial state.
“It promoted the capitalist system, which feed on the individualistic instinct of mankind and induced in the attitude of human inequality and domination of the weak by the strong,” says Dama Mosweunyane of the University of Botswana in a study titled “The African Educational Evolution: From Traditional Training to Formal Education”.