By Jameson Chauluka
The number of learners enrolling in primary schools has dropped by 414,895 in 2021 compared to last year, Ministry of Education statistics show.
According to the Education Sector Performance Report we have seen, from 2020 to 2021, the number of learners in primary schools dropped from 5,371,563 to 4,956,667, representing a 7.7 percent decline.
The report indicates that boys’ enrolment declined by 8.8 percent while girls’ enrolment declined by 6.7 percent. The decline in total enrolment is a result of high school dropout rate coupled with low intake rate. The high dropout rate could be the impact of the six-month break due to Covid,” the report reads.
However, the report fears that the decline could be higher than indicated since the annual trend of general enrolment shows an upward movement from 2017 to 2020.
The statistics indicate that the enrolment was at 5,073,721 in 2017, 5,187,634 in 2018, 5,298,524 in 2019 and 5,371,563 in 2020, which means that the enrolment would normally have been around 5.5 million.
In terms of gender, the number of girls has been higher than that of boys from 2017 to 2021.
In 2021, for example, 2,537,798 girls were in school as compared to 2,418,869 boys.
“This is a true reflection of the gender gap in the general population, which also indicates achievement of parity in primary enrolment. The average growth rate for enrolment between 2017 and 2020 has declined for both girls and boys from 2.5 percent to 2.1 percent and [from] 2020 to 2021 there was a decline of 8.8 percent to 6.7 percent, respectively,” the report reads.
It further indicates that the school dropout rate is relatively low at an average of 4.4 percent but remains high in rural areas, with Mangochi District being top, at around 11 percent.
To compound matters, the transition rate to secondary school, which is the number of form one available places in secondary schools, has dropped to 36.5 percent from 37.6 percent last year.
“The transition rate will increase as the secondary sub-sector is expanding to absorb more learners through infrastructure expansion and enhancement of ODeL [Open and Distance Learning] approaches. Significant changes in transition rate are likely going to be achieved from 2024,” the report reads.
Meanwhile, quality education advocate Benedicto Kondowe has said, much as Covid has indeed compounded the situation in the education sector, education has, for a long time, been facing challenges emanating from inadequate financing.
“We agree that Covid has forced learners to drop out of school but, for a long time, our schools have been lacking basic infrastructure and equipment to entice learners to be in school. Classrooms are inadequate and there are no qualified teachers and textbooks to keep the learners in school. These resources must be channelled to rural areas, where we have the majority of children who are not in school,” he said.
Another quality education activist Steve Sharra said although the statistics were shocking, they were not surprising.
He said even the number of candidates sitting Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education and Malawi School Certificate of Education examinations has dropped.
He, however, said the Covid pandemic had taught the nation a lesson on how to provide education services during future crises.
“In hindsight, we all agree that it was not a good idea to close schools that long. You will remember that school was closed for eight months; six due to Covid and then two because of teachers’ strikes. Again there is a need for more funds in the education sector to improve learner-book ratios and also to train every teacher in remote teaching so that learners can continue learning during crises like the one we have,” he said.
Ministry of Education spokesperson Chikondi Chimala said the ministry could not comment on the report at this stage because it was yet to be officially launched and presented at the Joint Sector Review Meeting (Jsrrm).
“The JSRM will be held in a few weeks and the report will be officially launched by the Minister [of Education Agnes NyaLonje in] a few weeks to come. It will be premature for us to start commenting on its contents before it is launched. During the meeting, all players in the education sector meet, review the previous year and plan for the next year,” he said.