By CHARLES SIMENGWA –
WITH pure joy etched on their faces, the Mungwi Technical Secondary School community recently gave a rousing reception to some former pupils who are fully persuaded to help improve the learning and boarding standards at the institution.
This was during the launch of the Mungwi Boys’ Alumni Limited, which signified a milestone in strengthening the relationship between the former learners and the current pupils, along with the school managers.
It is an undeniable fact that a good number of ancient schools around Zambia have buckled under the strain of age and a paucity of financial resources.
Some of them are hurtling towards further deterioration because they do not have cooperating partners to help them redeem their stars.
Years of financial stress and, sadly, vandalism by rogue pupils have left many old schools in ruins, and now in desperate need of extensive repairs.
Against such a background, former learners at these schools who are spread across different spheres of life are better-placed to help restore the coat that has peeled over the past decades.
Thankfully, the Mungwi Technical Secondary School managers have not dropped their guard against possible decay of the learning institution, some 26 kilometres north-east of Kasama in Northern Province.
This is evidenced by the complete overhaul of the sewer system that was a huge trouble spot leading to the delayed opening of the school at the beginning of 2018, as cholera ravaged some parts of the country.
“We are happy with the works done so far. There is only Chitimukulu Hostel which doesn’t have an ablution block,” said Akunjivwa Sinkala, the head teacher.
Despite existing for 59 years, Mungwi Technical Secondary School, whose first principal in 1960 was a noble professional, John Mwanakatwe, has maintained much of its lustre, particularly in its academic performance.
The learning institution was previously known as Kasama Secondary School, and was located at a different site within Kasama District.
“I can proudly state that last year, we were at 98.1 per cent pass rate at Grade 12 level.
This achievement, like many similar ones in the past, was attained despite the many challenges the school is faced with.
“To say the least, this school owes a living to every pupil, but they must work hard in order to earn it,” said Mr Sinkala, during the launch of Mungwi Boys’ Alumni Limited on March 8, 2019 at the school premises.
With a population of 923 pupils distributed from Grade 8 up to Grade 12, the institution has 66 teachers out of whom 26 are female.
The pupil population has in recent years dropped from a thousand-plus mark mainly because some local children, who previously would set their sights on joining the all-boys learning institution, now find alternative spaces in schools around Mungwi District, which have been elevated to secondary school status.
As further proof that they are not ready to throttle down their push towards improved standards, the school managers have kept the production unit active.
Besides the 36 head of cattle, the institution has 77 pigs while there is a steady investment in broiler chickens.
Mr Sinkala extolled the Parent Teachers’ Association (PTA) and school board for taking a leading role in constructing the staff room, just as they did during the purchase of both the school bus and truck.
“They also provided the much-needed resources for improving water supply and sanitation in general, and they pay wages to general workers employed by the PTA/school board timely.
“As it were, Government alone cannot do all these things, hence the need for collaborative efforts with other stakeholders like you,” he said.
In view of the available helping hands that should complement Government grants, the dwindling standards hastened by depleted budgets need not continue being a conundrum for school managers in ancient learning institutions.
Mr Sinkala said the launch of the Mungwi Boys’ Alumni Limited would “to the best of my conviction, create a strong bond of partnership between the association on one hand and the school on the other.”
He urged the association to be an agent of transformation, working to foster a conducive teaching and learning environment in partnership with the PTA and school boards.
The Mungwi Boys Alumni was registered as a limited company by guarantee on August 22, 2018, with the interim chairperson being Jolly Nalili, who is the Kabulonga Boys’ Secondary School head teacher and a former pupil at the learning institution.
Other office bearers include the interim secretary, Kebby Sichula and vice-secretary John Yabe, as Felix Sinkala is in charge of the treasury.
Mines and Minerals Development Permanent Secretary, Paul Chanda occupies one of the trustee slots in the association.
Emmanuel Mulenga Chanda, who was the guest-of-honour during the launch, applauded all the former pupils seeking to keep the school on its rightful rails.
He expressed hope at the many successes that would likely be recorded following the registration of the association.
“This is because some of the members of the association are in higher positions both in the Government and the private sector,” Mr Chanda, a former Mungwi Technical Secondary School head teacher – from 2010 to 2012 – said.
He cited a shortage of mattresses in some hostels and the 10-bed sick bay, in addition to the old pressure cookers which break down most times, as some of the pressing challenges for the school.
The institution is in dire need of computers, a printer, a scanner, and a photocopier, besides a modern computer laboratory.
There is also urgent need to refurbish and re-equip the design and technology department, which – for the benefit of old scholars – comprises metal and wood work.
The department has old machines which have outlived their usefulness, while the new dining hall lacks furniture.
Mr Chanda also appealed to the former pupils to consider renovating the former dining hall, which is part of the old structures that are deemed central in preserving the institutional memory.
Prior to the lively event in the new dining hall, members of Mungwi Boys’ Alumni Limited in attendance were guided on a tour of classrooms, staff offices, laboratories, design and technology workshops, and sports fields.
The tour, led by the school principal and his leadership team, stretched to the boarding area, water reservoir, vegetable garden, and the kitchen.
‘Zanzibar’, the similarly ancient trading space famous for steamy cassava and sweet potatoes cherished by many boarders, is now distinguishable by a neat structure that has been erected for the traders.
However, the moment everyone savoured came when the boisterous pupils welcomed members of the association to the colourful event in the new dining hall.
Before speeches by the head teacher, the MBA Limited chairperson, the head boy and the guest-of-honour, some pupils did a rib-cracking sketch comparing school life between the olden days and the ‘modern’ era.
There were pieces of advice for all the current learners, though.
Mr Nalili implored the pupils to avoid bad company and instead concentrate on their studies because “education is the surest way to change your life situations.”
In this treacherous era of social media, most youngsters do not seem to have the right people to model themselves after.
As some social commentators have observed – rightly, it should be added – it is easier for many school-going children to pursue the primrose path because it requires less intellectual effort than for them to imitate great achievers in academia.
For this reason, associations of former pupils are providing a useful interface between the current learners and those who have been through the mill, and are now ready to share their personal experiences in their respective fields.
Mr Nalili invited all the former learners to forge fresh ties and join Mungwi Boys’ Alumni Limited for efficient, effective, and transparent implementation of programmes.
The presence of the association was immediately felt as the members contributed 300 bags of cement towards construction of a half-kilometre boundary wall for security purposes, as well as to plug encroachments by some locals on school land.
An additional 100 bags of cement would be delivered to the school soon to meet the 400-bag pledge by Mungwi Boys’ Alumni Limited.
School head boy, Raphael Nyirongo was unwavering in his praise of the association, whose members he lauded for their commitment to serving their alma mater.
He said some former pupils had supported the prize-giving and honours day in the last three years, donated a 55” plasma television set, football boots, and a laptop computer for the best performer in Grade 12 examinations.
“But with MBA Limited now in place, we’re hopeful that greater things are coming our way,”
Nyirongo told an enthusiastic audience of pupils, teachers and other guests.
The eucalyptus tree-planting exercise that took place after the launch of MBA Limited, spearheaded by the association leadership, had enormous symbolic significance both for Zambia’s climate change agenda and for the “home-coming” of the former Mungwi ‘boys’.