In 2007, Malawi Government launched the National Education Sector Plan (Nesp) which provided strategies on improving the education standards at all levels from 2008-2017. As the plan expires in 2017/18, it is important to review how it has faired in the decade.
The plan describes basic education as a composition of early childhood development (ECD), non-formal education (out-of-school youth and adult literacy) and primary school. Its priority areas include equity and access, quality and relevance and governance and management.
To begin with, ECD is an area government has overlooked for many years. The plan highlights major challenges, including lack of public funding, low integration of special needs education (SNE) and poor conditions of ECD centres.
To avert these challenges, government committed to increasing access for the under-five children to ECD services by 80 percent by 2017, establishing an ECD resource centre in each education district, reducing caregiver-child ratio to 1:20 and trimming the helper to child ratio to 1:40 by 2018.
Eight years on, the number of under-five children without access to ECD is still above 50 percent and not all education districts have adequate ECD resource centres.
Available caregivers still lack capacity to deliver and integration of special needs education into ECD is one brilliant idea that was seemingly crafted to make the strategy more appealing rather than achieving the desired goals.
As it stands, the government has trained few specialist teachers at all levels of education. Though, there have been efforts from some non-governmental organisations to promote ECD activities, more impact is seen in reports than on their purported beneficiaries.
Similarly, the issue of non-formal education is losing prominence given to it. The sector, which currently lacks policy measures, infrastructure and male participation, was earmarked to reach over five million adults by last year.
Prior to the launch of the plan in 2006, Government embarked on the development of the National Adult Literacy Policy with the overall outcome of increasing literacy levels by 85 percent by 2011 from 64 percent then. However, in 2017, literacy rate was around 66 percent—a significant failure to achieve the plan.
Additionally, the issue of out of school youths appears to lack direction and support. The plan outlines that those under the age of nine should be encouraged to go back to school and those between 9-17 who fail to return to school should undertake Complementary Basic Education (CBE).
While we acknowledge that there is a flurry of NGOs supporting the return and enrolment of out of school youths in primary schools regardless of the age limit, the Ministry of Labour, Youth, Sport and Manpower Development should step in and collaborate with the Ministry of Education to enhance CBE. Otherwise a majority of NGOs are focusing on re-enrolment of dropout children, nothing more.
On primary education, the plan highlighted high enrolment rate as well as shortage of qualified teachers and classrooms were weighing down the sector.
Nonetheless, as the plan clocks 10 years, the primary education landscape is still not well taken care of. The remarkable achievement is the improvement in net attendance rate that is at 93 percent as compared to 76 percent in 2009.
Issues of pupil-teacher ratio are still terribly high, classroom blocks remain inadequate as schools find alternatives under the trees and teachers are expected to produce quality results under very harsh work conditions.
It is, therefore, my humble plea to the Ministry of Education to consult widely when making a review of the plan. Otherwise, our education system will remain entangled in a cycle of decay while in the hands of ‘learned’ personnel. n