Providing a bright future for school-age children
During the past decade, access to education in Malawi has greatly improved with the net enrolment at the primary level reaching 90 per cent in 2018. However, educating children remains a challenge because of the poor quality of education.
Access to quality education is one of the key determinants of human development. According to the World Bank Human Capital project, a child born today in Malawi will be only 41 per cent as productive as they could potentially be if they enjoyed complete and quality education and full health. The low productivity percentage leaves Malawi ranked 125 out of 157 countries on the Human Capital Index. Children in Malawi can expect to complete about nine years of schooling by age 18. When adjusted for quality of learning, this is equivalent to only about five years, highlighting a learning gap of four years.
Poor school environments present another barrier when it comes to quality education. Schools lack adequate space in classrooms, learning materials and experience high pupil-teacher ratios. There are many other challenges including children’s lack of school readiness due to poor early childhood education, lack of experienced and proficient teachers, lack of support for children with special needs and other vulnerabilities, and the limited capacity of teachers to deliver gender-responsive pedagogy.
Other issues include gender inequality and gender-based violence in and on the way to and from school, inefficiency in the education system which results in high repetition and dropout rates, low levels of completion and progression to secondary school. These challenges are closely linked to poverty, malnutrition, inadequate access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools, and the effect of HIV, which often prevents children, especially girls, from completing their education and reaching their full potential.
School closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have compounded the challenges children already face when it comes to accessing quality education. Many children, especially those who are disadvantaged face difficulties in continuing learning from home, and are at greater risk of forced labour, child marriage, teenage pregnancy, gender-based violence and sexual exploitation and abuse.
Schools must focus on the wellbeing of the “whole child” and attend to the needs of children in a holistic and comprehensive way. They also need to provide assistance to different groups of children according to their gender, physical ability and socio-economic status. Schools must also provide more conducive learning environments to help minimize repetition and dropout rates. Schools must also be prepared for emergencies and reduce interruptions to learning.
Both primary and secondary schools should respect child rights and meet national education standards. Children who have never been to school or dropped out of school should be provided with alternative learning opportunities or be given a second chance to attend school.
The use of innovative technology can improve access to learning for children both in school and out of school. Especially during the current context of COVID-19 pandemic, distance learning programmes have been critical to ensuring the continuity of learning.
Environmental factors can undermine participation in education. Unsanitary and unsafe learning environments result in injury and illness. Girls and boys must have access to quality health care, adequate nutrition, HIV care, child protection and WASH services, including menstrual hygiene management for girls. An all-inclusive package of services is required for them to survive and thrive in schools.
Under the 2019 - 2023 country programme, UNICEF will continue to advocate for effective and innovative strategies for increasing access to education, including implementation of double shifts as well as open and distance education/online learning. Additionally, UNICEF is committed to improving the quality of education and learning, and ensuring children, regardless of their backgrounds, have equitable access to education to unlock their potentials through safe, inclusive and conducive learning environments.