Education in Malawi
The Malawian education system is a hybrid born of the experiments of Kamuzu Banda and his successors. Schooling is modelled on the British education system, although local adaption and the hurried implementation of free primary education in 1994 saw the plummeting of standards and quality control.
The country now operates on 8-4-4 systems. Primary education is for eight years (referred to as Standard 1 to Standard 8). In Standard 8, students sit for the Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education (PSLCE), which determines their eligibility for entry into secondary school.
Secondary education is for four years (referred to as Form 1 to Form 4). In Form 4, students sit for the Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE), which is equivalent to the UK’s General Certificate of Secondary Education. University Bachelor’s Degree is for four years.
Based on the educational attainment of 15-24-year olds in 2010, 5% received no education at all, 57% failed to complete primary school, 11% studied until the end of primary school, 19% attended secondary school but failed to complete their secondary education, 7% completed secondary education and 1% studied beyond secondary level.
Data source: EPDC extraction of DHS dataset 2010
Pre-school education provides an important foundation for learning and development. The government of Malawi recognises the importance of pre-school education, and encourages communities to set up their own pre-schools, but does not support pre-schools financially. With no funds to support pre-schools, most of them are run on a voluntary basis and are unregistered. Most teachers work for free and have no resources to help them teach, lacking the very basics including blackboards and chalk. It is rare that pre-schools have their own school buildings, and many pre-schools share facilities with local churches or other buildings built for a different purpose. Not all children have access to pre-school education as access is dependent upon location and upon voluntary community involvement.
Primary school education in Malawi is for eight years (referred to as Standard 1 to Standard 8). Although the official primary school age group in Malawi is categorised as 6-14, it is very common for students of varying ages to attend primary schools, as many students have to repeat one or more school years.
The academic year begins in September and ends in July. The first four years of teaching are in a local language. Thereafter, the medium of education shifts to English for the balance of the Malawi education programme. Students who are able to reach standard 8 sit the Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education (PSLCE), which determines their eligibility for entry into secondary school. The PSLCE examinations are conducted and marked by the Ministry of Education and the Malawi National Examinations Board (MANEB). Students have to pass well and get selected if they are to attend secondary school education in a government secondary school. The pass rates for the PSLCE in 2018 was 75.36% (210,324 students out of 279,084 candidates have been qualified).
Most primary schools are lacking the most fundamental resources including infrastructure, teachers, and teaching and learning materials. Many students have to learn under trees because there are more children attending primary schools and not enough classrooms to house the children. It makes teaching impossible during the wet season.
The teacher to student ratio is roughly 1:100 when the government of Malawi recommends 1:60. The shortage of teachers in Malawi is due to two main reasons. Firstly, there are not enough trained teachers who have completed all their necessary qualifications to go around, and secondly, primary schools in Malawi must provide teacher’s houses to attract good teachers to their school. Teachers’ house can be very expensive to build but, without them, it is impossible to attract new teachers to the area.
Secondary school education in Malawi is provided by the government but it has to be paid for. The period of educations is four years (referred to as Form 1 to Form 4) and the academic year begins in September and ends in July. Many secondary schools are boarding establishments. The official secondary school age group is defined as 14-17. However, ages vary drastically as many children don’t leave primary school until they are much older, and many drop in and out of secondary school according to their ability to pay their school fees.
Students have to pass their Junior Certificate of Education (JCE) in Form 2, and their Malawi Secondary Certificate of Education (MSCE) in Form 4. They cannot progress to Form 3, without passing the JCE and cannot graduate from secondary school without passing the MSCE. Both JCE and MSCE allows the student to choose to take examinations in a minimum of six subjects including English. They can take more, however, it is the top six that are counted towards their final score. The subjects include Agriculture, Bible Knowledge, Biology, Chemistry, Chichewa, English, Geography, Life Skills, Mathematics, Physical Science, Social, and Development Studies. The MSCE is required for entrance to university and often considered an adequate credential for most jobs, as very few students in Malawi will proceed from secondary school on to university. According to a press release, out of 197,286 candidates who sat for 2018 MSCE Examinations, 124,745 candidates have qualified for the award of the certificate representing 63.23% pass rate.
Although many secondary schools are better resourced than their primary school counterparts, secondary school education in Malawi still varies greatly and is extremely under-resourced. Secondary school students in Malawi still struggle with the poor student to teacher ratios, access to books and learning materials, adequate classroom facilities, and adequately trained teachers.
The technical, entrepreneurial and vocational training authority is mandated by law to facilitate professional training throughout Malawi. Its objective is to ensure a sustainable workforce and thereby promote the nation’s economic growth.
Access to tertiary education in Malawi is competitive because classroom space is in undersupply. Few candidates are chosen for a university, although other may apply at teachers training colleges, and also technical institutions.
There are four public universities in Malawi, namely Mzuzu University, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Malawi University of Science and Technology, and the University of Malawi founded in 1964. The University of Malawi has following constituent colleges: Chancellor College, College of Medicine, Kamuzu College of Nursing and The Polytechnic.
The quality of university education is generally good, especially at the College of Medicine and Kamuzu College of Nursing. The Law and Education faculties at Chancellor College are rated highly. The University of Mzuzu, a second state university, opened in late 2000. The Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources came after the merging of Bunda College, Natural Resources College, and Mwinba Agriculture Institute in 2010. And the newly built Chinese funded Malawi University of Science and Technology opened in 2014.
Kamuzu Academy was built as the personal education project of Kamuzu Banda in Kasungu and is a boarding school for pupils in the 11 to 18 age range. Until his death in 1997, only white people were allowed to teach. The Academy is called the “Eton of Africa”, and follows a strict British curriculum. Two students from each district were offered scholarships, which allowed poor children to gain access to a world-class education. The scholarships were stopped by the Bakili Muluzi administration but later resumed by Bingu wa Mutharika. Many teachers now are black Africans, though a black man or woman has yet to head the exclusive educational institution. Many African presidents used to send their children to the Academy.