Malawi’s education sector faces an uphill struggle. Many Malawian children go hungry, are in poor health and have not reached the necessary developmental milestones by the time they are six, the official age for school entry. It takes an average of 14 years for a child to complete the eight-year primary school cycle as a quarter of children repeat a grade. Net enrolment rates are high in grades one and two for both boys and girls, but over half of the children do not reach grade 5, so they leave school before they are literate and numerate.
Despite the abolition of school fees in 1994, over 10 per cent of eligible children in Malawi do not attend school. Net enrolment rates are high in grades one and two for both boys and girls, but completion rates for primary education are low at 26 per cent on average and only 16 per cent for girls. Class sizes are huge, with a teacher: pupil ratio of 1:107. There is a serious shortage of classrooms, estimated at above 20,000, forcing many children to learn outside in the open. Only 20 per cent of children have access to furniture. Teaching and learning materials are in short supply, though the situation has eased somewhat with the new curriculum reforms. Teacher-pupil ratios are high, notably in the rural areas, due to lack of housing and other amenities.
Teachers’ motivation is often low because of poor salaries, lack of housing, and other incentives. Female teachers are often reluctant to serve in rural areas, making rural girls less likely to attend school. School environments are often unsafe, with cases of bullying, gender-based violence, abuse and corporal punishment on the increase, though these are seldom officially reported. Lack of any or separate sanitary facilities for boys and girls hinders attendance by girls and contributes to their dropping out of school.