Primary school education in Malawi is made up of eight years (referred to as Standard 1 to Standard 8.) Although the official primary school age group in Malawi is categorized as 6-13, it is very common for students of varying ages to attend primary school, as many students have to repeat some primary years. There are three school terms a year for primary schools in Malawi, running generally from September to December, January to April, and April to July. Primary school students in Malawi learn a variety of subjects and take examinations in English, Chichewa, maths, science, and social studies. Students must gain a Primary School Leaving Certificate based on their Standard 8 final exam results in order to progress to secondary school.
Primary school education in Malawi is provided by the government, and is free to all students in Malawi. Free primary school education was introduced to Malawi in 1994, and in the first year after the policy change, primary school enrollment in Malawi tripled from 1.6 million students, to over 3 million students. However, while primary school enrollment increased, there was a national shortage of classrooms and qualified teachers to deal with the huge increase in students. Although more students now have access to education in Malawi, the quality of education has decreased. Today, most primary schools in Malawi are under-resourced, under-staffed, and under-funded, creating extremely challenging teaching and learning conditions for teachers and students alike.
Most primary schools in Malawi are very basic and lacking the most fundamental resources including textbooks and basic teaching materials. Although many primary schools have brick classroom blocks, many students learn outside in temporary structures, making teaching impossible during the rainy season. It is extremely unusual for primary schools to have access to electricity. Although the government of Malawi provides government-paid teachers, there are rarely enough teachers for each primary school, and often not even enough teachers for each school year class. In Malawi, the average student to teacher ratio for primary schools can be as high as 200:1. The government of Malawi recommends 60:1 (and even this is very high!).
Although primary education in Malawi is free, students are required to purchase their own school uniform, pens, and notebooks which many families find difficult. Rates for drop-outs are high and, according to UNESCO, only 58% of children will complete a full course of primary school, and 20% of children repeat one or more school years, often several times, if they have had to take significant time out of school and have fallen behind. It is very common for children in Malawi to come in and out of school depending on their family situation, employment responsibilities, pregnancy and marriage at a young age, sickness, and more. By the time students leave primary school, many of them are far older than primary age, having repeated several years, and many lose interest and drop out all together. Just 72% of primary school children in Malawi pass their Primary School Leaving Certificate. However, some organizations have found most rural schools to have pass rates as low as 15%.
For most people in Malawi, primary education is the highest level of education they will achieve. As a result, primary education is an essential aspect of community life in Malawi, and is critical to the development of Malawi as a whole. Many of the basic skills and foundational knowledge required for life must be learned in these formative years. Therefore, it is critical to Malawi’s development to support primary education.
Currently, E3 Worldwide supports one local primary school in Malawi, including building a new classroom block, providing additional books, desks, resources, and materials. We also have introduced clean, running water and a permaculture curriculum that Dennis is teaching as well as maintaining a school permaculture garden. Soon, composting toilets will be installed to reduce sanitary concerns.
Part two of this blog will focus on secondary school education.