The Ministry of Education has unveiled the 2023 Education Sector Performance Report, which offers a complex narrative of achievements while, at the same time, revealing enduring challenges and data gaps.
Speaking during the launch of the two-days Joint Sector Review Meeting on Wednesday afternoon in Lilongwe, Principal Secretary (PS) for the ministry, Chikandano Mussa, said the ministry has embarked on a journey of introspection and unity to address the prevailing issues in the education sector.
“This is a forum where we unearth those things that are not working well. So, going forward, what we do is to come up with strategies to respond to the issues that the forum has highlighted,” said Mussa.
The ministry, according to Mussa, is committed to enhancing literacy competency, providing textbooks, and deploying proficient teachers to early-grade classes, among other efforts.
Mussa however said it will take time for the improvements to start reflecting because some of the things will take time to be addressed.
“Improvements may not be visible early enough, because some of the things take time, you know, if we’re talking about improvement of learning outcomes, for example, that cannot take place within a year, it has to take a number of years. So, if you have heard our keynote speaker, she has pointed out a number of areas of concern,” said Mussa.
In an interview, Research Fellow Esime Kadzamira, from the Center for Education Research and Training at University of Malawi (UNIMA), highlighted the pressing issue of low learning outcomes among primary school children, particularly in the early grades.
According to Kadzamira, recent assessments have revealed that a majority of children have not acquired the essential skills they should possess, significantly impacting education standards in the country.
“The main challenge is the role of learning outcomes amongst primary school children in particular in early grades. Recent assessments that have been made, these are called early grade reading assessments, and early grade mathematics assessments have shown that majority of children have not acquired the minimum skills that they were supposed to have acquired after completing certain levels of education,” said Kadzamira
Kadzamira also pointed out that the use of inadequate learning materials, such as those designed for a lower grade, has caused widespread challenges throughout the education sector.
She also addressed the inadequate progression of students from grade one to the end of primary school and the high pupil-teacher ratio as additional hindrances facing the education sector. She stressed the need to address the pupil-teacher ratio as a crucial step in addressing these challenges effectively.
“The analysis that we have done over a 40 year period of research shows that there hasn’t been a change in the way children progress. So when children begin grade one, by grade two, we have lost almost 20% of them, either because they are repeating grade one, or they have dropped out. By the time that cohort moves up the education ladder. By standard four, 50% of that enrollment has been lost mostly due to drop out.
“And by the time they reach standard eight, a cohort which starts in a particular year, 8 years later, we are finding that over 40 years less than 30% of that cohort is in standard eight, which means we are losing 70% of a cohort that begins primary school by the time they reach the end of primary school. So that is also of a major concern because when you think of primary school, which is the largest sector in education, you are talking of millions of children. In fact, since 1994, enrollment has always exceeded 1 million,” she said.
Michele Crimella, Team Leader of the Social Sector at the EU Delegation, emphasized the importance of the Joint Sector Review Meeting in monitoring education strategies, identifying problems, and finding solutions to the challenges at hand.
Acknowledging the need for improved educational standards, Crimella commended the dedication of those involved, noting that the sector faces numerous challenges, including those related to climate change, such as the impact of events like cyclone Freddy.
“The system is also facing a lot of challenges. That’s why we haven’t done enough on issues of climate change like cyclone Freddy has also contributed a lot but we can do better if the country stands together,” he said.
He expressed optimism in the collective effort to enhance the education system.
The review is being held under the theme “Transforming Education: Investing in Foundational Learning and Skills Development for a Prosperous, Self-Reliant, and Resilient Nation.”
The primary goal of the JSR Meeting is to provide a platform for stakeholders to collectively review the progress made in the education sector and strategize for further actions in alignment with the MW2063 national development strategy.
This alignment will focus on the First 10-Year Implementation Plan (MIP-1, 2021-2030), and the National Education Sector Investment Plan (NESIP, 2020-2030).