Malawi SDNP Education in Malawi



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.As Parliament in Malawi debates the 2008/9 budget, ACEM warns that there are one hundred and twenty years for Malawi to eliminate the gaping disparity between conventional and Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) Education


In December 1999 the Ministry of Education Science and Technology surprised the nation with an announcement of a "revolutionary" policy, which converted overnight scores of Distance Education Centres into Community Day Secondary Schools (CDSS). The policy announcement was influenced in earnest by results of a desktop research done by the Danish Secondary School Support Programme (DSSP). The policy Intended to minimize what was considered to be "open apartheid" in the way government provided secondary education to its own children. A small proportion of "intellectually fortunate" pupils were allowed to be taught in relatively well staffed conventional secondary schools with relatively a comfortable provision of leaning facilitIes like boarding, library and laboratory. The majority of the same Malawian children were left to scavenge for education in community managed Distance Education Centres with one unqualified Secondary School Supervisor, using improvised libraries and laboratory facilities or nothing at all.

Thanks to DSSP commitment, initial community resistance to handover to Government CDSSs which they built on their own, turned into excitement and joy as the initial innovations of the Danish programme started bearing fruits. Text Book Revolving Fund started turning the improvised libraries into academic houses filled with contemporary instead of outdated books. Schools started building cash reserves for procurement of other teaching and learning materials apart from text and reference books. Deliberate effort to staff CDSSs with Diploma holders from Domasi College of Education stated banging hope to the quality of interaction between learners and teachers in the dassrooms. A cluster-based secondary school teacher professional development which endeavored to strengthen ties between conventional secondary schools and CDSSs opened a chapter of intellectual and professional revival for the under qualified teachers in CDSSs. Provision of mobile laboratory equipment promoted a sense of hope among the CDSS pupils that they would no longer lag behind in scientific and technological skills. Support to Malawi Secondary School Head Teachers Association (MASHA) gave hope for the birth of an intellectual body to readily assist Government in improving secondary school governance including the CDSSs.

Three years down the line, in 2002, following a diplomatic disaster between Malawi and Danish Government the DSSPcollapsed as the Danes withdrew their aid to Malawi. Since the diplomatic crisis with the Danes, Malawi Government seems not very keen to get another development partner adopt the DSSP strategy. Government has gone into partnership with the African Development Bank (ADB) through which the areas of CDSS learning infrastructure development like classrooms, library, laboratory and administration blocks are rehabilitated and or constructed afresh. Under ADB 4, 40 CDSS were targeted for such renovations between September 2003 and September 2008. To date, only half the target is achieved. ADB 5 targeted 30 CDSSs from September 2007 to September 2011. To date only planning work up to bidding documentation is compteted. The Education Development and Management Unit (EDMU) has a mondate to rehabilitate at least 600 CDSSs. We we going at a pace of 20 in four years. The impilication is that if we leave the work of improving CDSS education infrastructure to Goverranent and ADB alone it may take us 120 years to complete the renovations of the first selected 600 secondary schools. We should expect the positive effects of Free Primary Education (FPE) policy to be piling more pressure on the secondary school sub sector and demanding even more CDSSs.

Government has also gone ahead partenering with some local private institutions like the University of Mzuzu in trying to solve the problem of teacher professional under qualification. At the moment a fifth cohort of the Secondary School Teacher Improvement Programme (SSTIP) is in the University attending a 12-week bridging course to improve conentent and pedagogy aspecte of Science teaching in CDSSs. We are also aware that Domasi College of Education is continuing with its of teachers for the CDSSs.

Irrespective of the above efforts by Government, a baseline study on teaching alearning conditions in CDSSs, done by ACEM in eally 2007 indicated that the situation in most CDSSs is still so bad that the country needs more concerted effort sooner than later if things are to be well with us. Although the study involved a small sample of a case of two districts and schools belonging to the Blantyre Synod alone, many people who have read the report confirm that the findings are actually a reflection of the situation in CDSSs countrywide.

Purpose of the study

Create baseline data on the status of management, funding, infrastructure, teachrng and learning programmes of Community Day Secondary Schools (CDSSs) in Blantyre Synod.

Sample: 17 CDSSs from Blantyre and Zomba districts.


Field survey approach was used to cost-effectively collect the required data The survey collected qualitative and quantitative data using self-administered questionnaires for teachers, structured interviews for Head teachers and the proprietor and Focused Group Discussions (FGDs) for School Management teams, members of Boards of Governors, representatives of Parents Teachers Association (PTA), some community opinion leaders and pupils.

Key findings

School Characteristics

There was higher boys enrolment than girls necessitating deliberate encouragement of the current Government policy of expanding boarding space for girls in all forms of secondary education.

Almost all the schools were led by male-dominated Head teachers with long service, past experience but short periods of service in the school of study and under-qualified. This requires deliberate expansion of the pre-service training capacity of the existing graduate secondary school teachers especially for female trainees by among other things encouraging more pnvate trainers to supplement Government efforts. More ACEM proprietors may need to emulate the example set by the Catholic and Livingstonia Universities which are already making a contribution towards pre-service secondary school teacher training.

School Management Support

Heads of schools were supported by non-substantive Heads of Department with little experience in Departmental Headship. This necessitates that in the short-term ACEM and Government should work together to come up with cluster based training programme for all HoDs who are non-substantive.

Availability and condition of management resources

Head teacher's office was the most commonly availab!e resource of the 15 explored but over half were in poor condition of repair. ACEM, the proprietor, School Management Committees, Parents Teacher Associations need to work together to find viable income generating activities (IGAs) for each school which should enable it procure and or construct the core management resources in phases. -

Sanitation and sources of water and energy

The majority of the schools lacked reliable source of energy - electricity. ACEM Secretariat and the proprietor need to conduct a feasibility study of the schools to establish those that are close to ESCOM power lines so that they can in the short term plan to benefit from Governments rural electrification programme.

Classrooms, teacher houses and effective school management and administration are according to the teachers and Head teachers, the most critical needs to be addressed if the schools are to become better. ACEM Secretariat and the proprietor need to identify and convince development partners to support financially and materially the work of constructing quality classrooms and teachers' houses based on locally accepted standards.

Teacher characteristics

The majority of the teachers were male, MSCE Certificate holders, had primary school teaching background and had been teaching in secondary school for not less than six years. Among their most popular expectations from the proprietor are in-service training in form of subject-based refresher courses and academic upgrading courses. There is need in the short-term plan period for ACEM Secretariat and the proprietor to develop a systematic school-based in-service training programme for the teachers tailored to specific school needs.

Specialist teachers were in short supply and most of them were misaIlocated but had manageable teaching loads. ACEM and the proprietor need to come up with a systematic programme of cluster-based subject refresher courses facilitated by the Divsional EMAS aiming at providing the teachers with reasonable subject content matter and skills for effective teaching.

The majority of the teachers had limited exposure to school management practices. ACEM Secretariat has to lobby for wholesale provision of the school management course currently offered by the Malawi Institute of Education (MIE) and Department of Teacher Education and Development (DTED) to all CDSS teachers to enable them make positive contribution to the management of the schools. ACEM secretariat should as well identify funds from development partners with which it should organize such trainings with MIE and DTED as facilitators.

The proportion of teachers confessing poor to average punctuality to school work was on the higher side and the majority of them missed an average of 12 to 24 lessons per term due to failure to attend classes while they were present in the school. The proprietor and the Divisional Education Office have to deliberately strengthen the role of PTAs and School Management Committees/Boards in their roles of assisting Head teachers in monitoring teacher lesson attendance.

The majority of the teachers was frustrated and had intentions to quit teaching as a career mainly due to poor salaries and lack of incentives. ACEM Secretariat and the proprietor need to devise various forms of teacher rewards based on some standardized benchmarks in order to compensate for the low salaries.

Curriculum Implementation Capacity of the schools

Three quarters of the schools reported use of teacher lesson attendance registers by the time of the study although teacher punctuality and missing classes remained major challenges. Head teachers need to set monitoring mechanism of the use of the teacher lesson attendance registers to ensure that the documents are not kept for purposes of convincing supervisors but that they are doing their intended purpose of optimizing time on task by teachers.

Classrooms were the most commonly available teaching and learning physical facility and they were in good condition in over two thirds of the schools. However, only a negligible proportion of schools had Agriculture, Science and Computer laboratories, Home Economics room and Assembly Hall. Reference books for teachers and library books for pupils were available in almost all the schools. While teachers' reference books were adequately available, pupils' library books were inadequately available in the majority of the schools. Individual schools supported by the proprietor need to engage in bilateral relationships with the private sector responsible for the various missing materials so that they can support them either materially or financially.

Study conclusion

Community Day Secondary schools in Blantyre Synod are subjected to severe deprivation in most of the inputs and process factors which determine quality teaching and learning. Most of the teachers are under- qualified and non-specialists. They are highly frustrated. There is great need to have concerted effort from all stakeholders to urgently begin addressing this social ill if ever all the Malawian children are going to be given non-discrimiflatory access to the education right.

An Appeal from ACEM

This is a political campaign year leading to the 2009 General Elections in the country. Individual politicians and political parties are busy revising their manifestos. The catchphrase in the manifestos is 'desire to contribute towards development'. ACEM wants to challenge the political fraternity that the CDSS area is gaping for support and the needs are obvious. ACEM patiently wait to hear your take from the findings of the study.

The Faith Community is already doing a lot to contribute towards educational development in the country but there is always room to expand. ACEM has already made recent strides by introducing secondary school teacher training opportunities at the Catholic University and Livingstonia University. There are so many other faith groups mushrooming in the country and showing signs of increasing God's blessings in wealth and prosperity. What is your take in this noble task of educating the poor Malawian child?

ACEM would like to commend private sector players like the Press Corporation, National Bank and Celtel Limited for their contributions towards education development in the country. We hope you may still have something to buy from the CDSS. As for the rest of the pnvate sector, ACEM wishes to emphasise that the disparity between conventional and CDSS is a social economic ill which needs immediate solution and your contribution is pertinent.

All community members with various blessings and talents from God, you have your CDSS either in your village or in your constituency. Your contribution, no matter how small will make a big difference. Let us all work together so that in less than 120 years we close the gap between the conventional secondary school and the CDSS.



Appeared in Weekend Nation 14-15 June 2008

(c) 2008 Malawi SDNP