Country Profile

Malawi is a land locked country which is situated in the southern part of the African continent. Malawi has a total land area of 119,140 square kilometers – of which 20 percent is covered by Lake Malawi. She is bordered by Zambia to the West, Tanzania to the North, and Mozambique to the East and South. For administrative purposes, Malawi is divided into three regions (North, Centre, and South) which cover 28 districts. The official language of English is used for communication in business and commerce, and it is also used as the language of instruction in all levels of education except in Standards 1 to 4 of primary schooling. In those standards, the most dominant local language of the area in which the school is located is used as the medium of instruction. English is taught as a subject in all Standards.

Malawi gained her independence in 1964 at a time when the 'wind of change' was sweeping across most of the African continent. The country was ruled by a one party system of government (Malawi Congress Party MCP) under the dictatorship of Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda for 30 years up to 1994. Like most African countries, one of the aims of the country at independence was to expand education so that it covered most of the Malawi population and also to make it more relevant to the needs of the society.  As a result of the efforts made, the primary education system expanded from a total enrolment of 359,841 in 1964 to 847,157 in 1980 and to 1,895,423 in 1994.

Malawi changed her political system of government from one party to a multi-party system in May 1994. During the one-party government period, primary school pupils paid token school fees. The new democratic government (under the United Democratic Front UDF) introduced FPE in the 1994/95 academic year, partly in response to the Jomtien conference on Education for All (EFA) which was held in Thailand in 1990, but also in fulfillment of one of the promises the new government had made to its electorate. This also formed part of a national policy of poverty alleviation (PA) by the new government. The new government had realized that reducing poverty was not possible without sustained economic growth and that economic growth would not happen without investing in education.

As a result of this policy change, more than a million additional pupils joined the primary education system during the first year of the policy change. Consequently, the situation in the education system deteriorated even further. Overcrowding increased, the few resources in schools were inadequate for the increased numbers, and the recruitment of temporary teachers (TTs) made the teaching and learning process fall short of what was expected. The Government was in a crisis of how to keep the children in school. While the government was already facing difficulties in providing services to meet the educational needs of the country, its problems were compounded with the introduction of Free Primary Education (FPE). This is the context in which both SACMEQ I and II studies were conducted.


Total population:
13 570 714 (2006)
Annual population growth:
2.2% (2005)
Rural population:
82.8% (2005)

*latest data as of March 2009 from UNESCO Institute for Statistics.