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Basic education faces hitches

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Steve Sharra

The attainment of quality basic education in the country remains a farfetched dream, with glaring gaps and inadequacies rocking the sector.

Statistics from the Ministry of Education for the year 2020 indicate that more than half of the country’s Early Childhood Development Education (ECDE) centre-going children do not have access to ECDE facilities, with only a quarter of ECDE centres having permanent structures.

According to the statistics, the country’s 12,424 Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres have an enrolment of 1,932,443, translating to 48 percent of children in the ECDE-going age group.

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Worse still, out of the 34,774 caregivers in the country, only 17,018 (49 percent) are trained in their work.

The statistics indicate that a majority of well-resourced ECDE centres are in urban areas and are mostly private, leaving underprivileged children, largely in rural areas, unattended to.

The ministry’s records further indicate that, out of 5,274,819 [2,605,128 boys and 2,669,691 girls] learners in primary school, nine out of every 100 drop out for various reasons while 23 in every 100 repeat classes.

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While the recommended classroom-learner ratio is 1:40 in the face of the Covid pandemic, the learner permanent classroom ratio is at 1:115 and learner to qualified teacher ratio is at 68:1 while the special needs learner to teacher ratio is at 15:1.

The statistics also indicate that, while teacher absenteeism is low among teachers who reside close to the schools, the teacher-house ratio is at a staggering 5:1 while the learner-textbook ratio runs from 4:1 but, in some cases, it goes to 9:1.

Education analyst Steve Sharra said the poor foundation in education is the basis for poor trends experienced in subsequent sections of education such as secondary education and higher education in the country.

“Because over half of ECDE-going children do not have access to the service, that is why we have repetition rates of up to 23 percent and, in some cases, even 30 percent. You will have one million learners in standard one but, by the time they reach standard 8, three quarters of the same class shall have fallen off and even fewer go to secondary schools and fewer will attain higher education,” he said.

Sharra said there was a need to increase funding levels to the education sector so that the government could buy enough textbooks, employ more teachers, build teachers houses and classrooms.

He, however, noted that the ministry of education is only on the receiving end of what the Treasury allocates and that the Treasury itself will only distribute what Malawi Revenue Authority collects plus other sources of income put together.

“It’s the situation of a chicken and egg. We need more productive people in the country who can significantly contribute to gross domestic product (GDP). We need to reach a level where the K1.9 trillion, which is the total national budget, can be allocated to the education sector only.

“Currently, 70 percent of adult Malawians do not have an education qualification; meaning that they did not even reach standard eight. So there is a need for the country to educate its citizens for the citizens to meaningfully contribute to the country’s GDP which will, in turn, make the education sector well funded,” he said.

Ministry of Education spokesperson Chikondi Chimala acknowledged the challenges raised but was quick to say the ministry would take steps to deal with the challenges.

“The ministry has been taking measures to reduce the challenges and tremendous improvement has been made. Those improvements will be seen at the time we release the 2021 report,” Chimala said.

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