Rerouting education future


 “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family” – Kofi Annan.

This is the summation of how important education is; not only education but quality and relevant education.

Education enables people to acquire relevant knowledge, skills, expertise and competences to perform effectively as citizens, workforce and as leaders of the country, thereby reducing poverty among the country’s populace.


Faced with the quest to promote education, the government introduced free primary education in the country in 1994. The development increased primary school enrolment from about 1.8 million to over 2.9 million in less than two years.

Analysis of transition to secondary education in Malawi shows that while many children find a place in primary schools, the majority of these are denied chance to continue to secondary school.

According to the Ministry of Education (MoE), in 1994, for example, 1,006,194 pupils finished Standard One. However, at the end of the primary cycle, seven years later, only 160,361 of these finished Standard Eight and 40,781 students (4.05 percent) were registered in Form One.


In view of this, MoE directed the conversion of distance education centres (DEC) to community day secondary schools (CDSS) in January 1999. The aim of this policy was to bring DECs into the mainstream of secondary education and ensure that many learners are given chance to go to secondary schools.

The 2014/2015 Annual School Census indicates that the majority of secondary schools in the country are CDSSs. Out of the 816 public secondary schools in the country by then, 689 were CDSSs, 60 were conventional secondary schools and 67 were boarding secondary schools.

However, studies indicate that CDSSs lack qualified teachers, libraries and laboratories and have poor infrastructure. More than 60 percent of teachers in CDSSs are under-qualified – were just picked from primary schools to beef up the demand in the CDSSs, and that teaching and learning materials are not available.

While conventional secondary schools can afford every student to have English and Chichewa books, two students at CDSSs are made to share one book and the results in national examinations are catastrophic.

Although the aim of the unification of DECs to CDSSs was to improve quality, the poor and uneven implementation of the policy has meant that CDSSs are not near the conventional secondary schools in terms of quality.

CDSSs have fewer resources than other schools although they enroll nearly half of the secondary students’ population. They are generally underfunded, have under-qualified teachers, a poorer learning environment and lack appropriate teaching and learning materials and equipment.

Candidates from CDSSs more likely fail examinations and less likely get a merit or distinction in mathematics and English – subjects whose results influence selection to public universities in the country.

For instance, out of the 46, 661 students that sat for the Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations in 2010, only 199 qualified to the University of Malawi of which 45 were girls and 154 were boys. While in conventional secondary schools, 23, 080 students sat for MSCE examinations and 549 qualified to Unima (176 girls and 373 boys).

In order to bridge such glaring disparities, the government with funding from the Japanese Government embarked on projects to upgrade CDSSs into conventional secondary schools where laboratories, libraries, teacher houses and recreational hall, among others, are provided.

Four CDSSSs were identified. These are Kabekere in Ntcheu, Zomba Urban and Chimwalira in Zomba and Muhasuwa in Chiradzulu. Fargo has been entrusted with the construction work and Site Agent for the construction company Hilarys Tembo says all construction work of these modern purpose built schools has been finished and handed over.

“Government vision of bringing quality secondary education will be realised through these beautiful projects. The schools have libraries, laboratories with gas chambers and all the apparatus for classroom experiments. They are also solar-powered, meaning studies can also be done at night without relying on electricity,” Tembo says.

Group Village Head Kabekete in Traditional Authority (T/A) Ganya in Ntcheu envisages a literate society in his area due to the opening of the conventional secondary school.

He says the magnificent structures that include eight solar-powered teacher houses, 400-seater recreational hall and water tank will enable children in the area to access quality and relevant education.

“Despite changing the shape of my village, the convention of the CDSS into a conventional secondary school will not only enable children in my village alone to access good quality education but also serve all people in T/A Ganya and Ntcheu as a whole. This is the right directional in the promotion of quality and equitable education for all children,” Kabekere says.

One of the Form Four students at Kabekere CDSS Esmy Mangochi says the challenges were so enormous in the previous state of the school that they fared badly in national examinations.

“We were using four small dilapidated structures for classroom against an enrolment that was high. This meant overcrowding in the classes and scramble for a few available desks. The same was the case during examinations, this made it easy to peek into someone’s work, thereby promoting cheating,” Mangochi says.

She says science subjects learning was laborious to them as they could just memorise the experiment procedures without practically conducting the experiment due to lack of laboratories. This led to their failure in science subjects during national examinations where practical examinations demanded they meet beakers that they have never used before.

Her sentiments echo statistics that indicate that in CDSSs, more than 60 percent of the girls failed science subjects in 2014 MSCE examinations while across the subjects, students in private schools performed better than students in CDSSs. But the best performing students were in conventional schools.

The five newly built conventional secondary schools have corridors, trails and toilets which are disability-friendly and have been built at a cost of about K2.3 billion.

Head teacher for Zomba Urban Day Secondary School Rashid Khowoya challenges his students to rise above the occasion and beat other schools now that they have a library and laboratories.

“We are coming from a history of a community day secondary school which had inadequate classroom blocks and poor teaching and learning resources to a school that has almost everything. With these new structures, teachers and students have no excuse not to perform,” Khowoya says.

Zomba Urban Day Secondary School currently has 300 students in Form One and if the pattern continues, it means the school’s total enrolment will have to be 1,200 students.

This means more resources will be required and Khowoya appeals to government and other stakeholders to continue in investing in education to meet the growing demand.

Despite the efforts from government and other stakeholders to improve the quality of CDSSs which were haphazardly converted from DECs, significant disparities in terms of physical and human resources persist as little was done to provide relevant teaching and learning facilities.

As a result, basic physical resources are often lacking in CDSSs while they are available in most conventional schools. Differences in availability of libraries, toilets and electricity are particularly striking.

This glorifies the huge investment that the Japan Government has pumped into the upgrade of the five CDSSs into conventional secondary schools.

The facilities that Fargo Limited has erected at these five schools give hope that quality and relevant education is possible in Malawi if and only if we invest in upgrading the remaining 800 plus CDSSs into conventional secondary schools.

Only then will we fulfill Annan’s dream of making knowledge, information and education premises of progress in our societies and families, thereby rerouting generations’ education future.

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