Teachers and Malawi’s development goals: Thoughts for World Teachers Day 2022

It has been a busy week in Malawi’s education space. On Sunday 2nd October the Minister of Education, Agnes NyaLonje and the Executive Secretary of the Malawi National Examinations Board (MANEB), Professor Dorothy Nampota, released the results of the 2022 Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education (PSLCE) examinations. The next day, on Monday 3rd October the Ministry announced that it would be recruiting 4,125 auxiliary teachers from the Initial Primary Teacher Education (IPTE) Cohort 13, and some from cohort 14. And on, 5th October, is World Teachers Day. Social media worldwide and in Malawi has been awash with messages of celebratory goodwill for teachers.

The most dominant news in Malawi, however, has been the PSLCE results and the two top performers, a girl and a boy, who each got 448 points out of 500. Mirriam Kachala, 13, is from Chipiloni Primary School in Zomba, and Joseph Magombo, 12, is from Nankhaka Primary School in Lilongwe. Their secondary education will be supported by scholarships from Press Trust Limited. Other well-wishers have also been donating sums of money to support the two students beyond secondary school.

Many were pleasantly surprised to learn that out of the 260,295 students who sat the exam, 216,664 passed, representing 83.24 percent. Many were equally dismayed to learn that only 89,404 students have been selected to public secondary schools, representing 41.62 percent, an improvement of 4 percent over last year’s selection rate of 37 percent. The pass rate for girls (78.33 percent) is ten percent lower than boys (88.21 percent), while the pass rate for special needs students (72.85 percent) is 11 percent lower than the other students. 

This year’s cohort entered Standard One in the 2014-2015 academic year. The 2015 Education Statistics Bulletin indicates that there were 1,061,868 learners in Standard One in that year. 

The math shows that 801,573 learners did not make it to Standard 8, having dropped out, or having been held back to repeat. That represents 75 percent of the cohort. Put differently, three out of four learners who entered Standard One in 2014-2015 did not make it to Standard 8 by the year 2022. These are disturbing numbers, but they are not new. We already know, from the 2018 Population and Housing Census, that amongst our 14-17 year olds, the official secondary school age, three out of four are not in school.

The numbers will improve in the near future, owing to a number of projects in the education sector. The Secondary Education Expansion for Development (SEED) project, funded by USAID, is constructing and expanding 250 secondary schools. Assuming that 250 new secondary schools were constructed today, and each accommodated 600 new students, we would improve secondary school enrolment by 150,000, which would be enough to accommodate all the 127,000 Standard 8 learners who have not been selected to secondary school this year. More secondary schools are being constructed and expanded through other projects also, including the European Union-funded Improving Secondary Education in Malawi (ISEM) II, and the World Bank-funded Equity with Quality Learning at Secondary (EQUALS) project. As I observed in an earlier piece, progress has been an issue, and there have been substantial delays.

The news announced on Monday, about the recruitment of 4,125 auxiliary teachers to go into primary schools, did not receive the same enthusiasm as the release of the PSLCE results. Auxiliary teachers are slowly becoming the norm as the government is unable to recruit full time teachers. This should not be allowed to continue. As of August this year, 17,438 primary school teachers have been trained, from IPTE Cohort 13 which graduated in 2020, to Cohort 16, which sat their final examinations in August 2022. The government is unable to recruit these teachers on a full time basis largely due to a wage bill cap that is part of a policy regimen of conditionalities that come with the Extended Credit Facility that Malawi is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund.

The public only gets snippets of the ongoing negotiations, making it difficult to know exactly why the government needs to observe particular conditionalities. Memories of 2011 and 2012 are still fresh in the minds of many, when then President Bingu wa Mutharika openly disagreed with the IMF on conditionalities. We all know what happened to the Malawi economy, and there have been near reminisces lately.

Today, on World Teachers Day, it is important to think about the role of teachers towards achieving Malawi’s national goals. During the recent United Nations General Assembly summit in New York, world leaders made pledges towards transforming education in their countries and globally. Most pledges made mentioned the central role of teachers. Malawi’s President Dr. Lazarus Chakwera presented a Statement of Malawi’s commitments, which included making education mandatory for every child from early childhood through to secondary education. The Government of Malawi, through the President, also pledged, among others, to ensure 100 percent enrollment rate in primary school, 100 percent primary school completion rate, 100 percent transition rate to secondary school, and 100 percent secondary school completion rate.

It is difficult to imagine how Malawi's commitments to transforming education can be fulfilled without adequate teachers in primary and secondary school. As enrollments improve, as they are expected to, more and more young people will be in school, and more and more teachers will be needed to teach them. There has to be a solution to the impasse caused by the IMF conditionalities, otherwise we should forget about achieving any of the education goals by 2030, or, let alone, 2063.