Education in Malawi
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.
*latest data as of March 2009 from UNESCO Institute for Statistics.
Minister of Education & Human Resources: Hon. Bingu wa MUTHARIKA
The primary level, which is an eight-year cycle, runs from Standard 1 through Standard 8. This level is divided into three sections; infant section which comprises Standards 1 and 2; junior section comprising Standards 3, 4 and 5 and senior section comprising Standards 6, 7 and 8. Secondary level education lasts four years and consists of two cycles- junior (Forms one and two) and senior (Forms 3 and 4) with national examinations after each cycle. The last level is tertiary education, which includes university, technical and vocational and teacher education. The number of years for this level varies depending on the course being pursued and ranges from one year to five years.
The official entry age into primary level education is 6 years but there are wide variations in the ages of pupils, ranging between 4 years in Standard 1 to 18 years in Standard 8. The wide variations are mainly due to late and multiple entries into schools and multiple grade repetitions. The Malawi government maintained a policy of open access (but not compulsory) to primary education for a long time. Until the introduction of the FPE policy, this access had been severely hampered by the charging of user fees, the requirement to wear school uniform and the many other contributions parents were expected to make towards the education of their children.
Secondary education is offered by three categories of institutions: the conventional secondary schools, the Community Day Secondary Schools (CDSS) and the Private Schools. The last two categories mainly cater for those primary school leavers who are not selected into the formal secondary schools by the government on the basis of the nation-wide Primary School Leaving Certificate Examinations (PSLCE).
Duration of compulsory education: 8 years
Starting age of compulsory education: 6 years
Ending age of compulsory education: 13 years
Enrolment in 2007*
*latest data as of March 2009 from UNESCO Institute for Statistics.
The Ministry of Education (MoE) has administrative, financial and academic control over primary, secondary, tertiary (including the university), distance education as well as the training of primary school teachers. The system of education is organised in four tiers. At the top of the national structure is the minister of education. While the MoE plans and administers the system as a whole, the responsibility of managing and administering the three levels above is assigned to one Principal Secretary who is assisted by heads of departments. The second tier is the division administration. Under the recent efforts to decentralize education services, the previous regions (three) were split into six and renamed divisions each headed by a division manager. The divisions are organised into 33 education districts of which four are urban. After the introduction of the FPE policy, there was attempt at improving the management of the education system which saw the districts being demarcated into zones. Each zone is manned by a primary education advisor (PEA) with a maximum number of schools of up to 15 and a teacher development centre in each zone. These are expected to play both inspection and supervisory roles in the schools.
At the bottom of the tier, are the schools. According to the 2003 education statistics, there were 5055 primary schools, 103 conventional secondary schools, 636 community day secondary schools, 246 private secondary schools, 6 TTCs, 4 technical colleges and two universities (including the new Mzuzu University) in the country.
There are also two autonomous institutions which greatly contribute to education in the country. The Malawi National Examination Board (MANEB), which oversees examinations and the Malawi Institute of Education (MIE), which has in recent years played a leading role in curriculum and material development and in-service teacher education. Other Institutions include the Centre for Educational Research and Training (CERT) which is a unit attached to the University of Malawi that was established to undertake educational research studies. The Malawi National Commission for UNESCO is a national organization that links government ministries in the fields of education, science, culture, and communication. The Commission provides some training for education personnel in various fields of management. It also helps to solicit funding and to involve the Ministry in UNESCO programmes that have a bearing on the development of education in Malawi. The Malawi National Library Service has responsibility for promoting, establishing, equipping, and managing national libraries. Two other ministries are also involved in education on a smaller scale. These are the Ministry of Gender and Community Services which is responsible for early childhood education and adult literacy, and the Ministry of Labour which is responsible for technical education and vocational education and training.
See the SACMEQ reports for more information.
SACMEQ II (2000) Reading achievement
SACMEQ II (2000) Math achievement
For more country statistics, see also: