Education for the Poor?

Education is a key strategy for reducing poverty by the poor. Governments and bodies often quote Nelson “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

A principle shared by many developing countries including Malawi.

“As a government, we are committed to improving a quality of education in the country…teaching is the mother of all professions.”

A statement that almost all the heads of state in Malawi have uttered on different occasions.

To what extent does the practice in the education system resonate with such utterances?

In 1994/ 95 the Malawi government introduced “Universal Primary Education (UPE)” to allow many children, particularly the poor and marginalised, to enrol in primary school. The Government introduced the “school feeding” program, in 1999, to complement the UPE.

UPE and School Feeding programmes focus on increasing enrolment and good health and nutrition of the students. It, however, ignores the quality of education offered.

The building of new schools has often not kept pace with the increase in the student population. Schools have often had to expand class sizes, as well as the ratio of students to teachers, to accommodate large numbers of new students.

Pupils in 2015, are still learning under a tree, in church buildings, and other makeshift structures that communities have made.

Students learning under open air spaces are heavily affected during the rainy season.

For almost three months, pupils might not attend classes. Fruits of a “Sunfed” primary education system.

Children from the middle class and higher class are often enroled in private schools. Apparently, they do not face the challenges their colleague’s face.

Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to the results of the Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education (PLSCE).

Of course, missionary schools tried to get the poor and marginalised into their schools.However, the tuition fee is becoming prohibitive as each year passes.

The education system works as a filter that separates the wheat from the chaff by subjecting different classes to various conditions. Unfortunately, the chaff is the poor and marginalised in this case.

Community Day Secondary Schools (CDSS) that have inadequate instructional materials and textbooks. In some schools, one English literature against over 250 students.

Coupled with the lack of science laboratory chemicals, science laboratory equipment, and incompetent teachers, poor working conditions of both students and educators, students in CDSS do not get much from the education system.

Explains why we don’t have a lot of children from Community Day Secondary Schools that get six credits including English. I am yet to understand why it English is the a measure of intelligence in Malawi.

The new harmonised student selection system into public universities demands that applicants make a non-refundable application fee of K8, 000. Makes you wonder how someone who was having a hard time to pay MK5,000 CDSS tuition, would manage to pay MK8,000 application fee.

The university selection system is another filter point that leaves a lot of poor and marginalised out of the equation.

Let me not talk about the number of “needy” university students that do have access to the famous “government loan” and their income levels.

When daughters and sons of senior citizens, in Malawi, are put on government loans, you are forced to look in the dictionary to understand the meaning of the word “needy.”

The number of those left out from those that apply has also increased from 7612 people in academic year 2010/2011 to 15,725 people in 2015/2016. The people that can afford to manage to go to private universities locally or abroad.

The rest have to figure out what they can do.

MSCE results were just released, and 75,296 have passed. It will be sad to see what the filter will do to these young ones come 2016.

More dreams shuttered.

What options does the system offer to those that are sieved out of the education system from primary to tertiary education?

Almost every year, missionary schools produce the best results when it comes to MSCE. Makes you wonder what the education system would be like in Malawi if missionary schools were to shut down.

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