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Some of the most pressing issues in Malawi education

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There has been a lot in the Malawian news this week about education. Check out our roundup here of some of the most pressing issues in Malawian education!

Malawi’s government has sought to take a harsher stance on inappropriate relationships between male teachers and their students. This push came as a result of a recent case from January where a primary school teacher impregnated a fourteen year-old student.

Osborne Kamisi, Rumphi District Education Manager (DEM), expressed the problematic nature of these relationships and the results of teachers taking advantage of students, often leading girls to “shunning [their] classes.” The DEM believes teachers are expected to take on a parental role with these students and instead are creating a feeling of insecurity and threatening the learning environment.

Currently, the teacher from the January incident is suspended from teaching and will most likely be removed from teaching in the school system.

While Malawi’s government is pursuing ways to create safer environments for girls in Education, the British Department for International Development (DfID) is preparing to launch a new program to assist girls in Malawi and around the world to complete primary and secondary education. The Keep Girls in School (KGIS) program seeks to address many factors that thwart female matriculation up through secondary programs including dropout rates, early pregnancy and marriage, violence, and lack of sanitary facilities for girls.

The head of DfID Malawi, Sarah Sanyahumbi, is excited at the development assistance and potential for Malawi under this program. Currently one in four girls completes primary school and two in five participate in secondary programs. This program in Malawi is worth MK22.5 billion (over 50 million USD), the biggest single investment in female education to date.

While the DfID program is aimed at improving female education in Malawi, it also addresses several issues raised a few ago earlier when a slew of church-based NGOs publicized a joint complaint. Their concern is that Malawi’s education curriculum is not sufficient in addressing the needs of Malawians today because it lacks needed education of survival and entrepreneurial skills.

The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace held an open debate entitled, “Is Malawi’s Education System Doing Enough to Shape the Future.” Significant concern was raised over the need to mirror the aspirations of Malawi within the curriculum and ensure the curriculum addresses related skills and knowledge.

Many organizations in the debate agreed that more consideration towards the needs of the country must to be included in the curriculum and also urged the government to allow more participation in creating educational standards, because the current standards demanded of school systems keep teachers “pinned to the desk and not teaching.”

The Catholic Education Commission National Secretary, Cleopas Mastara, is quoted in an article by Nyasa Times saying that the involvement of communities in the education system can have a profound influence in addressing tardiness, dropout rates, fundraising, and early pregnancy and marriage.

An example of how this lack of communication between schools and Malawi people can create negative outcomes, is the recent announcement that school holidays are going to be shortened by two weeks. The announcement was made within a month of the change being implemented nationwide. Not only did many people express their anger towards these changes, but many also expressed concern on the pressure it puts on their resources and budgeting.

During a debate hosted by Zodiak Broadcasting Station, one opponent felt this change not only put pressure on teachers and their curriculum, but also affects the families and students, and shows a lack of seriousness by the government in creating a meaningful education system.

These sentiments were echoed by others in protest, including James Mhone, a parent of three from Lilongwe saying: “I have three children in boarding school in Kasungu, Salima and Mzuzu. Imagine now I have to look for money to take care of their school needs when I had already planned my small salary on other issues that would make me raise enough money for the same should the schools have opened as were indicated earlier. This is outrageous and the ministry has not thought about our plight as parents and guardians.”

These changes have been implemented to all schools, public and private, in Malawi to create more uniformity within the system.