Exploring Education in Malawi: Looking at Quantity and Quality

As the new academic calendar for primary and secondary school commenced its strides couple of weeks ago, we have welcomed a new generation in the education realm.

A lot of students are enrolled at lower levels
A lot of students are enrolled at lower levels

A large number of brothers and sisters across the country who have reached the recommended age for primary school and some of them have graduated from pre-primary school are recruited for the long segmented journey of procuring knowledge and obliterating ignorance. Well, any citizen can give a big hand to the new cohort although it has embarked into a plane devoid of seat belts. But we don’t have any option, it is the only plane available. So let them fly without the seat belts.

But come to think of it, the condition of the plane has been like this for a long period of time, and we happily escort our young ones to the airport without any sense of guilt or fear. It’s not that the plain rebuffs any attempt at renovation, but it seems that the mechanics that are supposed to fix it have neglected their duties. This is a pathetic situation considering the fact that we have our young ones, the future of society, on board.

StudentsThe most significant concepts that need to be critically looked at in our education system are quantity and quality. By quantity I generally mean the number of students, teachers, and all the required materials for the learning process, and quality I refer to the standards of the knowledge imparted on students, how the required knowledge is being received and used.

Our education system is such that at primary school level enrollment is obscenely high as compared to the number of teachers and learning material available. According toRipple Africa 2003 – 2015 Report, the number of net enrollment across the country goes beyond 3 million in every year.

This large number dramatically drops down as students shift from lower classes to upper classes. By the time they complete primary education, at least half of the cohort is able to progress in secondary schools.

The reason for the reduction in quantity might be partially due to increase in school dropout which is influenced by various reasons such as pregnancy and marriage at young age, their family situation, and employment responsibility. But the large contributing factor is shortage of teachers and learning materials. It is self-evident that in our country, especially in remote areas, students have to walk long distance to access a nearest school.

As a result, many students drop out on their way and only few make it to secondary.
According to UNICEF’s Malawi annual report only 13% of secondary going age attends various secondary schools and of these at least 1 % manages to access tertiary education in university of Malawi.

In this case, the question might be: where can we place the blames? Is it our education system that it is failing to maintain quantity level? As a matter of fact, the number of primary schools is far outnumbering those of secondary and tertiary. Can this be a cause of the dramatic decrease of student quantity attaining tertiary education? Or should we ponder on other extra-educational factors, such as political and socio-economic factors?

Quantity decreases as the cohort proceeds to upper levels
Quantity decreases as the cohort proceeds to upper levels

On the other hand, quality, unlike quantity, increases as the cohort goes upwards. At the base, quality is low due to various factors and the major ones are drawn from the influence of quantity. These factors, as already mentioned include shortage of teachers and learning materials. So, these factor might be major contributors to low quality of education at the lower levels.

Nevertheless, in upper levels, quality tends to increase and the reason might be that the number of students slowly decline and the materials gradually fit into the required services.

In this case, we are now referring to the quantity decline, in terms of number of students, of which reduces obstacles and allows learning and teaching to be handled effectively.

Although quality seems to improve as we go upwards, this is just theoretical. We still have some challenges since most of the school are not well provide for even though the number of students is low.

Probably only few secondary schools are equipped. These are especially some of the Public and Private secondary schools and most of them are expensive, making difficult for most parents to afford.

My suggestion is that these problems do not just arise from the blue, they are offspring of socio-political and economic factors prevailing in the country. This will form the topic of our next discussion.


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