education in malawi
Since being set into motion in 2000, the Millennium Development Goals have been a concern for the Malawi government. Malawi’s specific target goal for its educational system, like many other African countries, is to ensure that all children have the opportunity to complete primary education. Doubts about whether this goal is achievable or not are inevitable given the current status of education in the country. Additional funding from countries like the United States would be extremely helpful to Malawi’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in the next year for a variety of reasons.

1. Economic Status

Malawi is on the list of the world’s 40 poorest countries, meaning that much of the money in the country must go to basic survival needs rather than education. The problem is that education is a form of empowerment and definite way to lift people out of poverty. If more developed countries explicitly give aid money to Malawi’s educational system, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology will be able to make necessary improvements to the infrastructure and quality of formal schooling.

2. Low Budget

The Malawi government’s national budget allocates 32 percent of funding to education. The average African country allows 44 percent of its spending to go toward education. Education in Malawi is extremely under-funded. Therefore, outside support is necessary for schools to function.

3. High Dropout Rates

Only 35 percent of children complete primary school in Malawi. Increasing funding for education would build classrooms, provide money for school supplies and make schools enticing in other ways to decrease dropout rates.

4. Need for Teachers

Though the student to teacher ratio for higher education in Malawi is very good (11:1,) the ratio at the primary level is startlingly low. For every one teacher in Malawi, there are 80 primary school-aged children. High dropout rates and low secondary education enrollment rates are not surprising given these statistics.

Additionally, teacher absenteeism is a large problem. The World Bank estimates that 20 percent of teaching time is lost due to teachers being absent without the ability to provide substitute teachers for their pupils.

Malawi needs additional funding to adequately train and hire more educators for its primary schools. The country has a number of teacher training colleges that individuals may attend in place of tertiary education. With increased financial support, these colleges could solve the issue of teacher deficiencies.

5. Comparative Performance

On average, children in Malawi have tested at a significantly lower level than children in surrounding countries. Many African countries measure academic achievement with the Southern African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality standardized tests. Among the countries using the test, students in Malawi have the lowest scores in English reading.

Perhaps a reason for low English scores has to do with the fact that children are taught in native local languages for the first four years of primary schooling. After these four years, the schooling shifts to English, the official educational language in Malawi.

Because children are not practicing English until the second half of primary education, they may have a disadvantage on the standardized tests when compared to countries that introduce English to their students at a younger age.

Regardless of the reason for lower performance scores, increased support from outside countries could provide financial resources to improve education and, consequently, standardized test scores.

6. Lack of Physical Teaching Space

The greatest obstacle that educators in Malawi must overcome to achieve the 2015 Millennium Development Goals is the lack of physical education spaces. Even if every child in Malawi wanted to earn a primary education, the current number of classrooms could not support complete enrollment. In order to guarantee every child access to public primary education, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology needs to build more schools to accommodate the students.

7. Changing Job Market

Part of the Ministry’s mission is to provide students with an education so that they can be successful in the workplace and alleviate them of an impoverished lifestyle. Historically, one of the country’s main exports and money-maker has been tobacco. As anti-smoking campaigns become more common and less people are buying cigarettes, the demand for tobacco is decreasing. Therefore, the job market in Malawi is shifting. In order to make money in the country, jobs now require a complete education more than ever. Funding is needed to improve education to catalyze economic mobility among citizens of Malawi.

Issues exist at the secondary and higher levels of education as well, but progress must begin at the primary level. When attempting to achieve educational MDGs by 2015, Malawi must receive more attention than many developing countries to solidify every child’s access to primary education. Though the country is small, its need for funding is great, especially in months leading up to 2015.

– Emily Walthouse

Sources: The World Bank, Malawi Government, Classbase, United Nations Malawi, Embassy of the United States, The Guardian
Photo: The Guardian