Kamuzu Academy History

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At the turn of the last century, a young child sat reciting his ABC to his teachers beneath a Kachere tree in the district of Kasungu, Nyasaland. His teachers could scarcely have imagined the deep desire for learning in their young pupil or the long-term impact of their rudimentary lessons.

The drum that in those days summoned students for lessons in the shade of the Kachere tree also called this young boy to a long and remarkable odyssey, largely on foot and through many lands, before returning to his homeland to lead the struggle for independence and become the first President of the Republic of Malawi.

As a young man, Hastings Kamuzu Banda worked in a hospital in what was then Southern Rhodesia and later in the gold mines of South Africa. He studied assiduously and saved enough to travel to the United States where he attended Wilberforce Academy, Ohio before taking his first degree in History and Political Science at the University of Chicago. He then took a degree in Medicine at Meharry Medical College, Nashville, Tennessee, qualifying as a doctor. He furthered his medical training in Edinburgh, Scotland and then established successful practices in Liverpool and London.

Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda always maintained contact with political life in his homeland, and his opposition to the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland prompted his return to Africa, to the then Gold Coast, from where he was eventually recalled to lead his people to independence.

The Kachere tree is now part of our heritage. Its roots are the roots of nationhood drawing sustenance from the richness and diversity of the land and its peoples - its trunk is testament to history and development - its green leaves and its branches reaching outwards signifying the life and aspirations of our people today; a nation taking its place in the world - its golden fruit heavy with the promise of youth and the hopes of generations. The green and gold of the Academy's uniform is a reminder of its Founder's roots, experiences, and vision. It also symbolizes his personal contribution to his people in establishing a model school offering education to the very highest international standards.

Long before his return to his homeland, Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda had resolved to improve the educational system of his own country so that young Malawians would not have to travel abroad, as he had done.

"I do not want my boys and girls to do what I had to do - to leave their homes and their families and go away from Malawi to get an education."

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The former President had stated on a number of occasions that he had very often been shocked by the glaring grammatical mistakes contained in the letters he received. His observations of the shortcomings of the educational system culminated in a very important address given at Soche Hill College on 17th April 1972.

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Meanwhile, many Malawians had seen the Kachere tree under which their President had started his early education and had expressed the wish that a model primary school, with modern facilities, be built within the vicinity of the Kachere tree. The building of Mtunthama Model Primary School by the Ministry of Education marked an important milestone in the history of education in Malawi. The school was officially opened by the President in 1975. In one of the most touching welcome speeches, a representative of the pupils at Mtunthama Model Primary School thanked the President for building a beautiful primary school for them. He then went on to draw a comparison between the conditions that prevailed when the President had his early education and the conditions in which they were learning. Just to emphasize the extent of their gratitude, in his winding up welcome address, the young pupil appealed earnestly to the President that the primary school be developed eventually into a secondary school.

Further concerns about standards in education and teaching methods prompted the Central Executive Committee of the Malawi Congress Party to look into making detailed preparations for building a model secondary school that would then be presented to the President in recognition of his leadership. When the matter was finally reported, the President accepted the idea of building a model secondary school in principle but felt strongly that neither the government nor the people could really manage to build the type of school that he had in mind.

The President stated explicitly that he wanted to found a grammar school, one that would be recognized for its excellence not only in Malawi but throughout Africa and the world. His vision was to create a school modeled on the best in the English independent boarding school tradition, producing boys and girls who could walk tall in some of the best universities in the world, including Oxbridge, the Ivy League, and, of course, Chicago and Edinburgh. His boys and girls, drawn from all districts of Malawi, would be able to compete with the best on equal terms. They would be smart, well-mannered, disciplined, hard-working, dutiful, good communicators, potential leaders and sharp - Malawian and African citizens of the world.

In July 1977, the Founder established the Board of Governors for Kamuzu Academy and a month later the first meeting was held in Blantyre. Some Governors visited the famous public schools in England and Scotland to discuss aims and to view buildings. On 4th September 1978, the Founder laid the foundation stone of Kamuzu Academy, which can be seen on the right at the top of the steps at the entrance. The name, Academy, though originally a center of learning in Ancient Greece, is a reminder of the Founder's education at Wilberforce Academy in Ohio, USA, whose clock tower is a model for the clock tower which is so prominent a feature of Kamuzu Academy. The Academy's distinctive architecture with its Romanesque arches, cloistered walkways, ornamental lake and landscaped gardens - a haven for birdlife - makes it, quite literally, a garden of learning that few schools in the world can emulate.

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The official opening of Kamuzu Academy by the Founder and Proprietor took place on 21st November 1981, though in fact, students, selected on the results of Primary School Leaving Certificate Examinations (PSLCE), Junior Certificate examinations (JCE) and Malawi Certificate of Education (MCE) Examinations had been attending classes for over a month. The Founder approved the recommendation of the Board of Governors that 21st November be observed as Founder's Day every year. Students, parents and staff are now celebrating the completion of 25 years since that important occasion. Kamuzu Academy Alumni are living, working and studying throughout Malawi, in several African countries, in Europe, the United States and elsewhere. They are active in almost every field of human endeavor, including the arts, business, government services, environmental conservation, the professions, armed services, sport, tourism and especially medicine. The contributions of Alumni over the last two and a half decades and in the decades to come will more than offset the cost of their education.

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When the Academy opened, the Founder stipulated that a minimum of the three best students - two boys and one girl - were to be selected on merit from each district in Malawi to enter Form 1 every year. No student was to be offered a place based on the personal position or influence of parents. No expense was spared to ensure that the physical environment of the Academy and its academic staff set the tone of excellence he envisaged. The avowed intention of the Academy is to challenge academically gifted children with a rigorous but stimulating and enriching academic program, preparing them for international examinations at the highest level, accredited by examination boards based in the United Kingdom. The Founder stipulated that at the core of the academic curriculum must be the study of the Classics - Ancient History, Greek and Latin - without which no man can truly call himself educated.

The hopes in the minds of the young pupils at Mtunthama Model Primary School in 1975 were realized in what has become known as The Eton of Africa. In 1987, BBC television produced a documentary about the Academy making the comparison with the English public school tradition. The focus was upon the day-to-day experiences of students and expatriate staff at the Academy. It acknowledged the Founder's commitment to the education of the whole person regardless of background and to the equality of opportunity for girls as well as boys. The Founder had created the Academy as a personal legacy to the people of Malawi. It is a long-term investment, destined to raise standards in education and to prepare young men and women today so that they can assume the responsibilities of leadership in all walks of life in the years ahead.

The 10th Anniversary celebrations marked the Founder's last visit to the Academy. The period since then has been a testing time. The sharp depreciation of the Malawian Kwacha since flotation in 1994 meant that the Founder's financial commitment in support of the running costs of the Academy, and the board and tuition fees of students in particular, became unsustainable. Every effort was made to realize funding from a variety of sources, including benefactors both in Malawi and overseas. Rationalization and the painful decision to retrench in order to re-build upon a foundation of students paying more economic fees led to several scholars having to be relocated to government schools or private schools with the aid of government grants. The Academy did its utmost to keep deserving students and worked tirelessly to ease the financial burdens on parents during periods of grave economic difficulty. The Academy's commitment to realizing the Founder's vision never faltered.

The Academy embarked on a process of continuity and change. Students were invited to apply for entry into Forms 2, 3 and 4, although rigorous entrance tests in English Language and Mathematics remained part of the selection process. As the average age of Form 1 students began to fall, preparation time for IGCSE examinations was lengthened to five years. The number of girls being admitted to the Academy increased rapidly, bringing about parity between the sexes. Recruitment of qualified and experienced Malawian teachers to fill vacancies and later assume positions of responsibility previously held by expatriates was extended. Throughout these changes, the Academy's staff and students remained focused on achieving excellence in every field of endeavor: students won scholarships to the University of Cambridge, the ‘A' level and IGCSE results reached unprecedented heights. The Kamuzu Academy Marathon continued to be a magnet to the best runners in the region and raise thousands of Kwacha for charity.

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On 25th November 1997, the Founder, Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda passed away. The Headmaster, staff and students of Kamuzu Academy were in attendance at Chileka Airport as the Founder's body was flown home from the Garden City Clinic in Johannesburg. Academy staff and students also formed part of the Guard of Honour that received the Founder as his body was flown to Lilongwe to lie in state. The distinctive straw boaters and green and gold uniforms of Academy students, from the youngest to the most senior, were noticeable amidst the throng of mourners laying wreaths at his graveside. Each year since then Academy students have formed a Guard of Honour in remembrance of a man whose faith in the power and idealism of youth led him to build the Academy. His belief in the virtues of unity, obedience, discipline and loyalty helped shaped the ethos of the Academy as much as it helped shape a nation.

The Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) has been a tremendous support to the Academy during these difficult times. Its fund-raising activities have resulted in the presentation of valued teaching resources, including TV and video players, a computer and printer. Parents making the sacrifice of investing in their children's education readily identify with the Founder's aspirations and expectations. The Alumni Association, too, has been active in constructing a database of Academy Alumni. The first annual Alumni Dinner took place on 7th July 2000 at the Academy.

Sadly, the Academy also lost another guiding hand on the tiller when Dr. Fletcher Banda, Chairman of the Board of Governors, passed away on 11th March 2000. Dr. Banda's experienced and calm leadership was resolute and good-humored. The breadth of experience gained at the Malawi Bureau of Standards, Malawi Institute of Management, Kamuzu College of Nursing and African Bible College saw the Academy through its most difficult times.

The new millennium saw a new Board of Governors and saw the Academy continuing to move forward with confidence and conviction. Student numbers recovered from the low point of the mid-1990s, the curriculum expanded and examination results continued to improve. The first phase of expansion of the Girls' Hostel has been completed thanks to the generosity of Press Trust. Power supplies have been improved by the installation of emergency diesel generators. The cellular telephone system and connection to the internet have considerably improved communications.

So what of the future? Some twenty centuries ago, the Roman writer Horace stated: ‘Exegi monumentum aere perennius' ‘I have built a legacy more lasting than bronze.'

The goal of Kamuzu Academy is ‘ continuing excellence in education ', and with that goal in mind to reintroduce full and partial scholarship places to deserving and gifted students. One step towards this goal has been the offer of granting up to 50% scholarships to Sixth Form entrants with more than five A grades at IGCSE or its equivalent. January 2006 saw the return to Kamuzu Academy of Government-sponsored students – one boy and one girl from each Educational District, selected on the basis of PSCLE. Thus, the Academy remains true to the Founder's memory in seeking to achieve the original purposes for which it was created: to provide education to the highest international standards to deserving boys and girls regardless of means. As we celebrate the Academy's first 30 years, let us also give thanks for the life and vision of its Founder.

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International reputation. It is, however, still a very young school. Of the more established independent schools in the UK, some can trace their history back 500 years, some even have their origins at around the last millennium (give or take a century). The Founder, as in so many things, was in for the long haul. The Academy, as a force for development in Malawi and in the region is likely to make its mark gradually, almost imperceptibly, over the next 20, 30 even 50 years. Already, it has succeeded in establishing itself as an institution acknowledged, even by its critics, to be in the active pursuit of excellence. This notion of excellence, so often the stuff of the media catch-phrase, is not about attaining perfection, or achieving ever higher pass rates in examinations. It is about a commitment to raising levels of performance; to recognising and meeting new challenges and getting the best from staff, students and available resources. In this sense excellence is attainable, but no sooner achieved than new goals and new opportunities present themselves.