School-Age Children

Providing a bright future for school-age children

A boy in a classroom at Chambwe Primary School in Lilongwe
UNICEF Malawi/2012/Siddhartha Ganesh

The Challenge

Middle childhood is a period of great transformation in a child’s life. It is a time when they begin to experience independence from family, by going to primary school where they will have regular contact with the outside world and develop friendships beyond their families. While participating in primary education, children gain skills that allow them to read, write, and do basic mathematics; equipping them for life.

Providing quality education remains a challenge in Malawi. The country is one of the poorest in the world (ranked 170 out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index), with more than 70 per cent of the population living on less than US$1.90 per day.

Some of the challenges that children face include the lack of space in classrooms, lack of learning materials and as well as a large teacher to student ratio. Other challenges relate to starting primary school late (after the age of six); poor quality teachers, exclusion of  children with disabilities and other vulnerable children, gender inequality and gender-based violence in and on the way to and from school; high repetition and dropout rates; low levels of completion and progression to secondary school. These challenges are linked to poverty, malnutrition, water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and HIV and AIDS, which eventually affect the education system and prevents children, especially girls, from completing their education and reaching their full potential.

Students at Masuku Primary School in Mangochi
UNICEF Malawi/2018/Lulutani Tembo
Students at Masuku Primary School in Mangochi.

The Solution

Schools must be inclusive, safe, with protective measures, such as being prepared for emergencies. Both primary and secondary schools should respect child rights principles and meet national standards. Children who are out of school, or who have never been to school, or dropped out of school due to various reasons should be provided with alternative learning opportunities or a second chance to attend school.

The use of innovative technology can improve learning for children. Children who are out of school should be provided with relevant literacy and numeracy skills to enable them to make informed decisions about their lives.

Girls and boys must have access to quality health, nutrition, HIV, child protection and water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services. An all-inclusive package of services is required for them to thrive.

In the 2019-2023 country programme, UNICEF will advocate for effective implementation of doubles shift secondary schools.  This requires using the same school structures, the same teachers but reaching more students, thus increasing access to secondary education.  UNICEF will continue to support interventions that benefit children aged 10 to 14.  These include the safe schools' programme, the child-friendly schools approach, digital learning in primary schools, scholarships for girls, literacy classes for adolescent girls, and behaviour change communication to improve nutrition among adolescents. Additionally, there will be continued advocacy with work with traditional and religious leader to keep children in school and end child marriage in Malawi.

A little boy stands outside a classroom block being constructed by UNICEF
UNICEF Malawi/2018/Lameck Luhanga
A little boy stands outside a classroom block being constructed by UNICEF at Nankhali Primary School in Lilongwe.