Malawi, which has impressive documents on education, may fail to meet its educational goals if it does not put in place mechanisms for addressing problems such as poor access to education, high dropout rates, a dysfunctional adult literacy programme and, now, climate Change. ELIJAH PHOMPHO writes.
On paper, Malawi is well-positioned to meet its educational goals.
After all, the country has the National Education Sector Plan (Nesp), which was supposed to be implemented between 2008 and 2017 but is still cited in official documents. It also has the 2020-30 National Education Sector Investment Plan.
Education is also designated as one of the country’s priority areas in the third Malawi Growth and Development Strategy, which the government started implementing from 2017 to 2022.
Malawi is also expected to fulfil aspirations set out in international commitments such as Continental Education Strategy Agenda (2016-25), African Union Agenda 2063 as well as United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (2015-30).
Already, the country has been struggling to accommodate the current enrolment in primary and secondary schools, a problem likely to be compounded by what the United Nations Children’s Fund calls high population growth.
The National Statistical Office, in its 2018 Population and Housing Census, indicated that Malawi’s fertility rate is at 4.17 percent, with the growth rate of 2.9 percent, meaning that the 18 million people who make up the population and those that are yet to be born will continue to exert pressure on the country’s meagre resources.
The Malawi Education Sector Analysis (Esa) 2019 puts this in context: “It is common sense that funds are limited. It is therefore imperative that the limited resources have to be allocated to high impact activities.”
Just last month, Ministry of Education officials indicated that 84 percent of secondary school-going children were not in school in the country due to limited resources.
Education Minister Agness NyaLonje said the country had five million learners in primary school against 415,000 that are enrolled in secondary schools.
“We, as a country, need a lot of resources to bridge the gap between those in school and those not in school. We cannot talk about achieving the Malawi 2063 when youths are failing to attain secondary school education,” NyaLonje said.
“The population is growing so fast against the minimal resources that the country has. And 75 percent of the population are youths who are failing to further their education after primary school,” she added.
True to this, the Esa indicates thus: “There are a number of challenges affecting the education sector in Malawi. Approximately, only 48 percent of children aged between four and five years attend Early Childhood Development programmes whose activities include reading, music and art.
“Esa found that nearly 90 percent of all the school-going age eligible children attend primary education. Repetition rate is high since it takes 13 years on average to graduate from the eight-year primary school programme while dropouts last an average of 6.4 years in primary education.”
According to the 2018 Population and Housing Census, 2,389,008 children aged between six and 17 years are out of school.
According to Ministry of Education statistics, only 38.4 percent of primary education graduates are absorbed in existing secondary schools.
Between 2015 and 2019, education expenditure ranged from 14.8 percent to 18.2 percent of the total government expenditure, further failing to meet the education sector needs emanating from an annual enrolment growth rate ranging from 2 percent to 2.5 percent.
Civil Society Education Coalition Executive Director Benedicto Kondowe feels that the education statistics are worrisome.
“The government must address the problem or else the next generation will be dull.
“These figures have been there for some time now and we are hoping that something will be done about it fast. Let the government allocate more resources to the education sector, which is of paramount importance,” Kondowe said.
In July this year, British High Commissioner to Malawi David Beer urged stakeholders to invest in education, particularly foundational skills in maths for young children.
“When we consider who has been most affected by the challenges caused by Covid, we often think of students in examination years, whose preparation may be disrupted, so missing out on good scores in their leaving certificates. Whilst this is certainly a worry, we should not neglect girls and boys in the early years of primary school, who have missed out on building the very foundations for their future learning. Learning losses are likely to be disproportionately larger for children in the first two or three years of primary because, unlike older children, those in the earlier years require constant direct contact with a teacher and are less able to learn on their own,” he said.
During the same month, the Government of Malawi launched the National Numeracy Programme.
The programme is designed to improve achievement for all girls and boys in primary school by introducing a new vision and curriculum for mathematics, developing new teaching and learning materials and training and supporting teachers.
The United Kingdom has invested £16.3 million (approximately K18.3 billion) in the programme.0
While efforts are being made to improve education standards in the country, the country faces yet another challenge: Climate change.
NyaLonje, speaking in Glasgow, Scotland, at the on-going Conference of Parties 26, said mainstreaming adaptation to climate change in Africa should start with making sure that youths have adequate access to education and that schools are climate-proofed
She referred to the fragile nature of school infrastructure back home, some of which fails to withstand adverse effects of climate change such as wind and rainstorms.
Just this year, heavy rains disrupted the administration of ongoing Malawi School Certificate of Education examinations in some community day secondary schools in Lilongwe.
“We can only make adaptation meaningful if it is mainstreamed in non-formal, informal, and formal education settings,” she said.
Is Malawi prepared to face the new challenge of climate change head-on? Time will tell.