Archive for November, 2018


Schooling in Malawi: a vicious circle

November 27th, 2018

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Interesting, though challenging piece looking at the schooling stats here from a Scottish educationalist, Elizabeth Ritchie who has worked extensively in Malawi. She paints a stark picture of the challenges.

One of the key figures quoted in the headlines is that less than half of pupils in Malawi’s primary schools complete the full eight years of basic education. However, the total might be even less than that. In desperately poor schools in rural areas, the completion rate might well be in the region of 30%, but is balanced out nationally by the completion rate in the better private schools and in urban government schools.

What is worrying, however, is that the completion rate is falling. It was 52% in 2013. While everyone agrees that the EMIS figures are shocking, some researchers even so do not consider them to be accurate. Analysis by Chancellor College, University of Malawi, suggests that the overall primary completion rate is actually less than 30%.

Most children drop out of school between Standard 1 and Standard 2 when classes are at their largest. Furthermore, it is not just completion which is a problem. Many children repeat classes, sometimes year after year: almost 22% across the country. Pupils who repeat, don’t move on. They rarely learn much more as the problems which have damaged their education remain. They are stuck, educationally, socially and intellectually.

It is a vicious circle. High class sizes at the early stages of primary school contribute to dropout. Drop out results in too few pupils entering secondary school. Too few secondary pupils result in too few trainee teachers which, in turn, means a pupil-teacher ratio which is too high.

The government is prioritising the building of CDSSs. However, in order to develop secondary education, which is essential for national development, it will have to divert resources from already under-resourced primary schools. These are the kinds of decisions which developing nations make all the time.

The data in this post may seem overwhelming in its significance for the long term development of Malawi. However, change is possible. Improvements happen – think of the strides made by countries like Ghana, for example. Such improvements depend on careful prioritisation and planning and for these accurate data is needed. Depressing though the data may look, the important thing is that at least it is now being gathered and reported. Let us hope that it will now be used and acted on.

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