The controversy is unmistakable. The lie, whether out of differing schools of thought or deliberate ploy to mislead the world, is crystal clear.
Pop music diva Madonna has told the world her Raising Malawi organisation has built schools across the country to benefit the poor Malawian child.
Yet, and government has come out strong on that, all she has done has been to build one or two school blocks at already existing schools. This is the first truth.
Located 40km outside Kasungu district, Kabila school is one of the 10 'schools' built by Madonna at a location where there was a dilapidated temporary structure which acted as a school for several years.
The second truth is that all the so-called schools are located in Kasungu district as District Education Manager Rocky Hausi will confirm.
The schools are Kabila, Mkoko, Swaswa ,Kasumbi, Chabuula, Mkwayule, Vigando, Ndonda, Mkomachilolo and Kaziwa which have received an additional one or two classroom blocks.
"What Madonna has built through Build On are not schools but school blocks, maybe Raising Malawi does not know the difference," Hausi said, referring to the noise Madonna has created.
Madonna had planned to construct a state-of-the-art girls' school in Lilongwe modeled on Oprah Winfrey's Girls Leadership Academy in South Africa but this plan was shelved when she accused Raising Malawi Academy for Girls board of abuse of funds.
Madonna's change of plans did not please government but the pop star proceeded to start building classrooms at already existing schools through an NGO named Build On which works in Kasungu district.
Raising Malawi says the classrooms in Kasungu were built in partnership with the District Education Manager's office which helped Build On prioritise in areas where children were learning in a temporary structure or under a tree.
A press release from Raising Malawi issued on December 27, 2012 and subsequent stories published in several online publications claimed that the 10 schools had been built over 12 months and would all be ready by January 7, 2013 in time for the second term of the school calendar.
"The fact that more than 4,800 children in Malawi will get to go to school next year is a tremendous step forward for their individual growth and the growth of Malawi," Madonna said in the press release.
She also claimed that the 10 schools had been built 'in villages across Malawi' but the matter of fact is the classroom blocks are all located in Kasungu district.
In a press release the Ministry of education states that Malawi does not have 10 new schools constructed by Raising Malawi in Kasungu apart from the 10 classroom blocks.
"With the foregoing, the Ministry of Education Science and Technology would like Raising Malawi to clarify on this issue as the Ministry finds their statement misleading," the statement reads.
Minister of Education Eunice Kazembe said the statement was meant to clarify any misconceptions that have arisen as a result of Raising Malawi's claims.
"What we are saying is that Raising Malawi only built 10 classroom blocks and not schools. It is not us who should make explanations on this issue. We are only trying to clarify any misconceptions that may arise," Kazembe said.
But Raising Malawi's latest statement issued on January 17 in response to the Ministry of Education clarifies that NGO Build On partnered with Raising Malawi in January last year to build '10 two-classroom schools for rural villages of the Kasungu district of Malawi'.
Raising Malawi states that each village that was selected had no adequate school structure and priority was given to villages with no school infrastructure at all.
"Prior to Build On and Raising Malawi, children in these villages attended classes in either a temporary structure or outside under a tree. Each classroom is built to hold 50 children at any given time," the statement reads.
Raising Malawi also claims the District Education Office provided 44 teachers to the schools but the ministry has disputed this as well.
The Ministry says according to the definition of a school, a school should have a minimum eight classrooms, an administration block, a minimum two teacher's houses and toilets.
Adding weight to the wrangle, Civil Society Education Coalition (Cisec) executive director Benedicto Kondowe said as long as there were structures where Raising Malawi and Build On constructed new school blocks then the 10 are not new schools.
"The reasoning of government is right when you go by the definition of a school," Kondowe said further warning government to be careful in future when partnering with international organisations especially in the education sector.
"This is a wakeup call to government to rethink on how to manage partnerships with NGOs, whether at central or district levels so that organisations do not use Malawian children to raise money," Kondowe said.
A visit to Kabila School found that indeed a school block was standing next to a temporary structure that has served as a school for several years.
Head teacher of the school Lovemore Chisema could, however, confirm the increased intake of pupils from 214 to 268 following the erection of the new school block.
"Before the new school block, pupils were learning from the grass thatched building but it started leaking after the rainy season started and children were sent back home," Chisema said.
A grass-thatched structure which served as the lone school block has now been abandoned for fear that its walls could collapse on children.
Since it was constructed in 2007 by the community, they have been rehabilitating it every year by adding fresh grass and reinforcing the walls but this has not been done since schools opened in September last year.
Instead, the community put their energy and concentration on contributing building materials towards the new school.
But the school block is not enough to cater for all the 268 pupils at the school as many continue to learn outside.
"When it rains, we in Standard 4 learn with Standard 1 pupils in the same class with one teacher and it's very difficult to pay attention," one of the pupils Marko Dzintambira said.
But the children who took time to plant lawn grass outside their new classroom block are happy, nevertheless.
Chisema, the head teacher, said this was done to minimise absenteeism when it rains but this was not working as effectively as expected because one class learns out on the veranda to escape the rain.
The school has three teachers, which means one class suffers when the teachers share classes from Standard 1 to 4 on a school day.
"We have made a request to the DEM for another teacher. We were just two before two terms ago but we still need an additional teacher and an extra classroom block to turn Kabila into a full primary school," Chisema said.
According to the 2010 Demographic Health Survey, the proportion of Malawians with primary education has increased with the median number of school years having increased from 1.8 to 2.5 for women and from 3.1 to 3.5 for men.
Such poor structures, lack of teachers and overcrowded classrooms which is a common sight in many parts of the country have not stopped increased enrollment in school.
Malawi, surely, needs every well-wisher for its needy education sector, but if truth be told to shame the devil, what Madonna calls schools are not.