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Updated: 10-March-2012


A meaningful investment and commitment to education is the cornerstone of any society that values its citizen’s participation in their development as individuals and as a nation. As such, there is need to engage and empower students, teachers, educators, the community, traditional leaders, civil society organizations, and politicians to take a fresh look at some of the real issues on the ground surrounding all levels of the education system in Malawi.

This education overview (write up) highlights major successes and challenges of the system at each level and outlines key recommendations which the the Government and other key stakeholders are required and called upon to seriously address if education is to improve in the country.

However, before specifically discussing the general situation of education in Primary and Secondary levels, there is need at the outset to be mindful of the cross-cutting issues that affect all levels of education even beyond primary and secondary (i.e. tertiary). The cross-cutting issues are as follows: 

bullet Appropriate and relevant legal infrastructure is of paramount importance for an education system to be effective and efficient, so the availability of an education act relevant to 21st century challenges is highly imperative.
bullet Teacher motivation is at the core of learner outcomes, so issues of remuneration, Continuous Professional Development (CPD) and housing have to be addressed 
bullet Dissemination of national policies still remains weak and poorly coordinated. There is a real need for a more cohesive and structured standard operating procedures (SOP)
bullet Gender disparity still exists across the whole education system necessitating deliberate efforts to promote girls education especially post-primary 
bullet Sub-standard private schools continue to mushroom creating need for promoting efficiency in quality control of private institutions
bullet Special needs institutions continue to operate with inadequate and inadequately trained teachers necessitating more focus on special needs teacher training
bullet Current curriculum design and content do not adequately address Malawi’s present employment needs, creating need for further reflection on how to create fair balance between blue collar and white collar employment skills

Key Issues in the Education Sector

According to the Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report (GMR) of 2010, published by UNESCO and OXFORD University Press, only 18 percent of children who enroll in school manage to complete primary education in Malawi. The reports further states that boys have a much higher chance of completing their schooling than girls, as “22.3 percent of boys complete primary school compared to 13.8 percent of girls.”

The Education Management Information System (EMIS) of 2009 puts the drop out rate for girls as high as 17 percent while that for boys is only 2.7 percent in upper primary classes. Most schools in the country not only lack adequate number of toilets for girls, but they also do not have washrooms specifically designed for them. According to District Education Network (DEN) in Dowa, the ratio of girls to toilets reached as high as 1:75 in that district as of 2010.

Accommodation for girls still remains a challenge with the government only constructing about seven hostels while the set target is 17 per year. As of 2005, literacy rate for women had been low at 52 percent while that of men was at 76 percent, according to National Statistics Office.

Research shows that most of these challenges emanate from poor programme planning at both ministry and district level which suffers poor gender targeting. A report published by Civil Society Education Coalition (CSEC) in 2010 year dubbed “Gender Responsive Budgeting in Malawi” reads: “it was further established that the budgeting process is largely not gender responsive.”

Primary Education

Government has made some notable achievements in basic education beyond just the introduction of free primary education in 1994, which brought with it a number of its own challenges. The following are some of the achievements:

bullet Primary school enrolment increased from 1.6 million in 1991/1992 to 3.3 million in 2007.
bullet Government has been increasing primary allocation, even though not sufficiently
bullet Government achieved gender parity at primary level in 2006.
bullet The development of a ten-year National Educational Sector Plan for the improvement of quality, access, equity, governance and management.
bullet The introduction of Feeder Schools and Village based schools, and
bullet Government introduced School Management Committees to ensure sustainable management of primary schools.

While the government has made commendable efforts to improve quality, access and equity of basic education, there are still a lot of challenges facing basic education and they are as follows:

bullet There is need to construct more school blocks to cater for the expansion that resulted from the introduction of free primary school
bullet There is lack of adequate qualified teachers. There has been increased teacher-pupil ratio which reached up to 1: 220 in 2008
bullet High dropout and repetition rates in primary school are high with repetition reaching up to 20% in 2006
bullet Poor retention and completion of girls especially in standards 5 to 8
bullet The introduction of Feeder Schools and Village based schools, and
bullet Insufficient teaching and learning materials

Recommendations for Primary Education

bullet There is need to ensure that we have an education Act in place
bullet There is need to increase education spending to enable NESP implementation. This implies Ministry of Finance 
bullet There is need to increase average recurrent spending on education by around 5% annually, and double external assistance
bullet Restructure education spending to invest more in primary education and ECD.
bullet Begin to focus more on literacy and numeracy in the early years to get a solid base of children who can progress effectively through primary and upwards. The expensive cycle of dropout, repetition and poor learning must be broken
bullet Get around 12,000 additional primary teachers into classrooms by 2012 to bring class sizes down to a ‘teachable’ level. This is in addition to the 18,500 teachers who should graduate from teacher training colleges
bullet Build around 15,000 more classrooms by next year (1213) than they were in 2008.
bullet Introduce measures aimed at keeping girls in school and help them at least match the learning achievements of boys

Secondary Education

With free public primary school education since 1994, about 30 percent of primary school children are currently matriculating on to secondary school; this situation has created a bottleneck at the secondary school level particularly with the Community Day Secondary Schools infrastructure i.e. boarding facilities an and teacher housing.

Government allocation towards secondary education has been decreasing over the last couple of years and now stands at about 20% of the education budget. This has led to inadequate access to secondary education and there needs to be particular emphasis on special needs students, orphans and needy ones. The following are some of the challenges within the secondary education sector:
bullet Limited access to marginalised children including orphans and special needs children
bullet Lack of qualified teachers especially in Community Day Secondary Schools (CDSS)
bullet Poor retention especially for girls due to long distances to and from school and hostile gender environment like toilets, among other things

Recommendations for Secondary Education

bullet Improve motivation for teachers, including remuneration, equitable access to Continuous Professional Development (CPD) and housing
bullet Increase enrolment and make selection and admission of students more equitable, including for special needs children and Other Vulnerable Children (OVCs) 
bullet Monitor performance and strengthen internal efficiency of the secondary education sub-sector. For instance, the “Ministry of Education needs to adhere to national guidelines and not let other stakeholders build incomplete schools without teacher houses or toilets.
bullet Finance Community Day Secondary Schools (CDSS) and support Open Day Learning (ODL) in secondary school


1.   Most part of this write up is based on the Education Agenda, a publication which CRIDOC and other partners produced in 2008 under the umbrella of Civil Society Coalition Network (CSEC) through field and desk research. Besides the CSEC Secretariat itself, the other partners include: the Association of Christian Educators in Malawi (ACEM); Participatory Rural Development Organisation (PRDO);  Malawi Economic Justice Network (MEJN); and Women Educationalists in Malawi (FAWEMA). For more information, you may follow this link:

2.   National Education Sector Plan (NESP)

3.   Malawi Country Status Report, 2009

4.   Malawi EFA Dossier by CSEC

5.   Mid-Year Joint Sector Review 2008/09

6.   Budget Studies Documents (CSOs and GoM)

7.   OSISA/ANCEFA/GCE Mission Report 2008

8.   Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report (GMR) of 2010

9.   “Gender Responsive Budgeting in Malawi” 2010 - CSEC

10. Education Management Information System (EMIS) of 2009

11. Dowa District Education Network (DEN) Research

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