articles, opinions, and research about teaching and learning

Teachers Forum
March, 2003

Making Progress
on Girls Education
in Malawi
Mrs. Judith Kamanga
Mphungu Primary School

Interview Conducted by
Bernard Gatawa,
Head of Education UNICEF Malawi

and Calister Mtalo,
Project Officer
Judith Kamanga


Ms Judith Kamanga is a teacher with a difference. She has survived in the male dominated teaching profession whereby most of the head-teachers are male. She is 50 years of age and has been a teacher since October 1975.

After completing her secondary education, she did a two-year Diploma in Teacher Education.

Mrs. Kamanga taught in urban and rural primary schools up to year 2000 when she became the head-teacher of Mphungu primary school to date.

She is married with 7 children: four girls and three boys.

Related Links on UNICEF

Accelerating Progress in Girls' Education
This document outlines a strategy for accelerating progress on Girls' Education in order to meet the goal of gender equality in primary and secondary education by 2005. This is the first credibility challenge of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Education for All (EFA) goals.

Barriers to Girls' Education, Strategies and Interventions
Explore such areas for analysis as direct and indirect costs, then view the possible findings / causes, broad strategies and possible interventions.

The Barriers to Education from a Gender Perspective
If we examine some of the barriers to a quality education through a gender lens, we find that for girls the hurdles are, for the most part, higher and more frequent - simply because they are girls.

What is the Life Skills Approach?
From TTAL with links to other UNICEF resources

Southern Africa crisis: Malawi
UNICEF humanitarian efforts in 2002

Education and HIV/AIDS in Malawi
from State of the World's Children 2002

Statistical Data on Malawi
from the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey

The Girl Child
Discussion and resources from Voices of Youth
Question: From the 27 years of your career, how do you see the development of girls’ education?

Answer: I have found that girls and boys are not treated equally in school.

  • Girls are considered less intelligent than boys are. And by some strange logic girls themselves come to believe it. It even shows in their performance.
  • When girls become pregnant they are expelled from school but the boys who make them pregnant are allowed to continue with their studies
  • There are fewer girls selected for secondary education because of their low performance in primary education
  • Generally, in the lower primary classes girls perform better than boys but as they enter upper primary their performance slackens. Onset of adolescence seems to affect their schoolwork negatively.

Q: Using the existing structures of PTA, School Committee etc. what have you done to get parents/communities to send girls to school?

A: My school, Mphungu Primary School, has an advantage in as a female head-teacher I am a living model for girls in the school. They are able to see that women can do work normally seen as work for men. The school also has various activities that challenge stereotypes such as:

  • a drama club that reaches out to communities and students on such matters as stereotypes of roles between boys and girls
  • in staff meetings teachers engage issues of gender and conduct gender audits of textbooks and other teaching-learning materials

Q: What methods do you use to promote girls’ attendance?

A: We use the following strategies:

  • Motivation of girls who perform well in class by giving them prizes
  • Make deliberate efforts to give leadership positions to girls in school
  • Since most our classrooms have no furniture and pupils sit on the floor, girls are exempted from standing while answering questions
  • Female teachers hold special sessions with girls on such topics as growing up and relationships while male teachers hold sessions with boys on the same
  • We have a system here of enhancing gender parity by getting both boys and girls to participate equally in class activities. For example, asking questions to both boys and girls whereas in the past teachers would ask most questions to boys.

Q: Have you started using the life-skills materials that were distributed to schools?

A: The teaching of life-skills has been a slow process because the teachers feel that some of the topics are culturally sensitive. We have discussed among ourselves as teachers and have started with teaching the less sensitive topics. The school also has an Anti-AIDS club, which provides pupils space to share ideas on issues related to HIV/AIDS using drama, poems and songs.

Q: How do you measure performance of girls compared to boys?

A: In junior classes girls perform very well, sometimes better than boys. In senior classes their performance deteriorates compared to boys. They also have higher repetition and dropout rates. To me this has nothing to do with ‘natural talents’. It is a result of home/community factors and school factors that work against girls as they grow older. I have been fighting these factors since I became head of my school and the results are beginning to be encouraging. Last year, for example, out of 49 pupils who sat for primary school leaving exams 48 passed and 33 were selected for secondary. Of these 18 were boys and 15 girls.

Previous Related Interviews

"Expanding Educational Opportunities for Girls in Zimbabwe"
  - December, 2002

"Supporting Girl Students in East Timor"
  - November, 2002

"Using the Life Skills Approach in Armenia"
  - July, 2000

"Life Skills Teaching Experience in Vietnam, Part 1 "
  - November, 1999

"Life Skills Teaching Experience in Vietnam, Part 1 "
   - December, 1999

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Last revised March 1, 2003
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