Secondary school education in Malawi is provided by the government as well as privately, but is not free to students who must pay school fees. Secondary school fees vary greatly, but can range from as low as $30 per year at local community day secondary schools, to $1100 per year or even higher for private secondary boarding schools. Fees, even at the lower amount, pose a huge burden to families in Malawi who struggle to raise enough money to send their children to secondary school at these rates.
Secondary schools in Malawi are run in four years (referred to as Form 1 to Form 4), and split into three terms which run generally from September to December, January to April, and April to July. 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. Students study English, maths, agriculture, physics, biology, geography, history, bible knowledge, social studies, and Chichewa. Both for their JCE and MSCE, students can choose to be tested on any combination of these subjects, and can drop their lower scores and keep their best six. However, they are required to pass English and maths in order to proceed. The MSCE is often considered an adequate credential for most jobs, as very few students in Malawi will proceed from secondary school on to university. 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. According to UNICEF’s Malawi Annual Report, only 13% of secondary school aged children actually attend secondary school.
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 poor student to teacher ratios, access to books and learning materials, adequate classroom facilities, and adequately trained teachers. There are challenges to education in Malawi which are unique to secondary school. In addition to prohibitive school fees, a lack of secondary schools in total means that many students in Malawi have to walk great distances just to attend school each day, which obviously has a huge impact on attendance as well as significantly cutting into study time. In the area where E3 works, out of the 600 children who pass their primary school exams yearly and are qualified to attend secondary school, only 150 have the opportunity to do so due to lack of space. Many secondary school subjects, such as physics and biology, also require special facilities such as a laboratory for students to study and take a practical exam for their MSCE. Most schools cannot even attempt to teach physical science, yet students wishing to study the subject will still be tested on the topic, for which they have never been properly taught.
In general, national secondary school pass rates for the MSCE are extremely poor. The decrease is due to shortage of staff, inadequate teaching and learning materials, unqualified teachers, orphanhood and general poverty, and absenteeism of both teachers and pupils. At household level, many children have lost their parents, thereby increasing orphanhood, and net enrollment continues to be very low. Drop-out rates for secondary school are very high. Drop-out rates are due largely to the prohibitive cost of tuition fees, sickness and family responsibilities, and for girls, 42% of drop-outs were due to early marriage or pregnancy. Overall, however, expensive tuition fees remain the most prominent and universal factor in drop-outs for secondary schools in Malawi.
Although secondary school education remains a basic public service in many countries across the world, for most people in Malawi, the chance to attend secondary school is something very special, and millions of children in Malawi will never get the chance to experience secondary education at all. For those who do attend, inadequate teachers and a lack of proper facilities will still prove a challenge to their education. By the time the few students who will attend secondary school get to the end of their schooling, only the smallest fraction will ever go on to university. Secondary school education in Malawi remains something of great importance to most Malawians, and a goal which most young people strive towards.
This year, the focus for E3 is building a secondary school next to the existing primary school which will include a science lab, library, and a girls hostel. This will enable an additional 200 students to attend secondary school from the local area. In addition to the regular taught subjects, E3 will add permaculture, financial management, and vocational training such as construction and crafts to the curriculum This is due to the fact that so many students fail to enroll in higher education and will be subject to joining an already high unemployed population. Having skills right out of secondary school will allow the student to have an edge when seeking employment or better yet, starting their own business.
For more information or to donate and help E3 build the school go to http://e3worldwide.org/ or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
E3; Educate, Empower, Employ