Some education experts have welcomed efforts by key stakeholders who are challenging and motivating Form Three students to work harder and become well-read critical thinkers who can sail through secondary and tertiary education with flying colours.
The experts made their comments with regard to the pilot K17 million (US$37 778) Top Achiever Programme the Lilongwe University College of Law and Professional Studies (Lucolps) is championing in a bid to improve education in Malawi.
Lucolps officials determined recently that Form Three students are at a critical stage of their education, whereby they can be guided and motivated into star performers in class and in their professional lives later.
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has endorsed the programme.
The experts and other key stakeholders launched the five-year programme in a bid to correct the lack of competitiveness among secondary school students and the declining standards of secondary school education in Malawi. The stakeholders lament that the tertiary education sector has, consequently, lost confidence in the quality of Form Four school-leavers.
They note that the lack of confidence is evidenced through the running of University Entrance Examinations over the past 10 years. In addition, they further observe that the few students admitted into public universities, after passing entrance examinations, get weeded out by the second or third year of their studies.
Captivating 30-minute television episodes, called the Lucolps Top Achiever Programme, started showing simultaneously two Sundays ago on Times and Luso television (TV) stations and the Malawi Digital Broadcast Network in pursuit of education experts’ lofty goal of improving educational standards and boosting the spirit of academic competitiveness in Malawi. The episodes, starring every Sunday from 8:30pm, will continue on the three stations until June this year.
In the television series, 48 Form Three students, from 16 secondary schools across the country are competing and outshining one another in elimination series which will see four students fighting out in the grand final in June this year. The winner will receive K250 000 (US$556) and other prizes, with some consolation prizes going to the other top competitors.
The 16 secondary schools participating in the Top Achiever competition were selected based on the results of last year’s national pass results in secondary schools. These comprise national schools, schools under the Independent Schools Association and the Cambridge stream institutions.
Civil Society Coalition for Education (Csce) executive director Benedicto Kondowe welcomes the Top Achiever Programme as one that should help to revive competitiveness among secondary school students.
“We support the move to groom Form Three students and make them truly ripe for the remainder of their secondary education and their entry into tertiary education. Any effort to turn out quality human capital for our country, in general, and our industries and other development sectors, in particular, must be supported,” says Kondowe.
He wishes to see the programme becoming a national exercise to have greater impact. He appeals to members of the public to give the programme massive support by voting for star performers in the programme and have a chance to win several prizes, including two air tickets to Nairobi, Kenya and Johannesburg, South Africa.
Renowned educationist Steve Sharra cautiously welcomes the programme.
“Successful interventions involve stakeholders from conceptualisation to implementation. If the intervention has involved teachers, students, communities, government, civil society and other stakeholders, that’s a good foundation for success. If the focus of the intervention is to supplement the areas in which teachers and students are struggling, and meet those needs, that’s the right direction and if the focus is to test students without having supported them through deliberate pedagogical interventions, the likelihood of success would be rather minimal,” he says.
Sharra observes that the government should quickly address several factors militating against quality education in Malawi, including the effects of the unsystematic introduction of free primary education some two decades ago, when class sizes ballooned exponentially.
Since then, he added, schools have faced woes like a lack of adequate equipment and amenities, limited training for teachers and dipping teacher morale.
He stresses: “We had close to 20 years of very low teacher morale, which is poisoning and paralysing the entire system at primary and secondary levels. The economic problems we are experiencing mean that we are unable to provide adequate support to the education sector.”
Sharra suggests that the country’s economic prospects need to improve, to make it possible to support the education sector with the improvements it needs, including building more teacher training colleges and graduating more teachers for primary and secondary schools.
“We need to elevate the teacher education curriculum to a more rigorous university-level education. We need to provide continuous professional development for serving teachers, and change bureaucratic attitudes and start valuing and respecting teachers. We must place a premium on uMunthu ethical standards both in the school curriculum at all levels, and at the highest levels of leadership through actions and not mere rhetoric,” he adds.
The educationist pointed out that Malawi is among many developing and even developed countries facing great challenges in the education sector, particularly since the current global model of education, geared towards producing people ready for employment, has failed.
He also regrets that 50 years after independence, less than 30 percent of Malawians have completed secondary education, with less than five percent who have completed tertiary education.
Sharra adds: “The new thinking is proposing teaching creativity and entrepreneurship, so education can fulfill people’s dreams and aspirations and they can create career opportunities for others, instead of waiting for someone to employ them.”
Secondary schools in the Lucolps Top Achievers programme from the Southern Region are Blantyre, Michiru, Henry Henderson Institute, Chisapi, St. Patrick’s High and Bedir International. Central Region has Crazmatic High, Marist, Lilongwe Girls, Dedza Girls, Lilongwe Academy and Mt. Sinai International schools while Northern Region has Mzuzu Government, Joel Private, Marymount and Phwezi Foundation.
ucolps programme manager Aggrey Chiumia states that eight best students will be allocated codes between A1 and A8. Thereafter, it will be back to family sentiments in choosing how Malawi’s education standards can be promoted.
“From the eight students, television viewers will vote for one outstanding student to automatically move on to the grand final. The remaining seven will go through further quiz and reasoning tests to determine the three students who will join the student who has the highest votes in the last stage of the competition,” says Chiumia.
He adds that the four will then go through further tests to determine the overall winner, who will receive the K250 000 cash prize and if he or she scores nine points or less in his or her Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations, will also access a tertiary scholarship fund.