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NATION on Sunday

AUGUST 4 2013

NATION ON SUNDAY, 4 AUGUST 2013

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EPHRAIM NYONDO News Analyst
alawi is a nation tenaciously defined by a bewildering divide of the majority poor who mostly live in rural areas and the minority rich largely found in urban centres. In between is an increasing number of urban poor perched in shanty townships that are wrapped in a technical classification called peri-urbanas rural-urban migration surges in search of a better life, improved public services and decent jobs. Statistics affirm this. According to a 2004 Malawi Economic Justice Network (Mejn) study, 66.5 percent of Malawis rural dwellers live in abject poverty against 54.9 percent of those that live in urban areas. And the Integrated Household Survey (IHS) carried out by the National Statistical Office (NSO) between 2010 and 2011 found that in terms of place of residence, rural poverty is five times more severe than in urban areas. There is also a strong correlation between the education levels of the household head and the family s poverty status. It is also not a coincidence that various studies have confirmed that rural dwellers have the least education; hence, poverty is more severe among people who live in households whose heads have no formal educational qualification. For instance, households with no formal education qualification have a poverty headcount of 65 percent compared to only five percent poverty headcount in households with a tertiary qualification, according to the NSO 2010-11 IHS. No wonder, those concerned with bridging the gap between the rich and the poor have always found answers in education. The argument, pushed by different experts from various disciplines, is that education is a fundamental factor of social mobilitya persons ability to move from a lower social class to a higher one. The understanding is that

NATION on Sunday
AUGUST 4 2013

special essay

The great education divide

Education is supposed to bring equality and not divisions


education equips people with necessary skills for the job market, eventually determining their social class position. Consequently, the more educated someone is, some experts argue, the higher the earning power he or she commands. Empirical evidence supports this assertion. A 2010 study titled Education and Employment in Malawi by Vincent Castel, Martha Phiri and Marco Stampini found that within regular wage employment, secondary education is associated with a 123 percent wage premium whereas university education boasts a 234 percent wage premium(relative to illiteracy). Or consider a 2009 study carried out by University of Malawis Professor Ephraim Chirwa and Mirriam Matita. The study established that secondary education improved ones earning potential by 15.4 percent. A university education, on the other hand, improved ones possible income by 66 percent. A primary school qualification, meanwhile, improved ones earning potential by a measly 5.1 percent. This explains why education remains the sterner agent of the great equaliseruniting people from varied backgrounds and statuses into a community of enlightenment, prosperity and development. Equalising hope becomes divider The irony, however, is that in Malawi, instead of uniting; education is the principal divider and separator of people. In other words, instead of being the great equaliser it should be, education has kept hundreds of educated people and their generations on the upper safety zones while trapping millions down Exclusive inquiry page 3

Photograph: ephraim nyondo

NATION on Sunday
AUGUST 4 2013

Rural-urban education divide worsening inequality


Exclusive inquiry page 2 and perpetuating the vicious cycle of poverty rotation on the axis of generations of uneducated and unskilled bloodlines. Granted, there are a number of areas where inequalities in education bare their fangs: gender-based that is, male versus female or boy versus girl; and people with disabilities versus those without disabilities. But nowhere are inequalities more apparent and worse than in the access to public secondary education between Malawians in rural and urban areasinequalities that force generations of poor households, especially in rural areas, to remain entangled within the ribcracking dungeons of paucity. This silent but damaging inequality in access to public secondary schools has had a fundamental bearing and multiplier effects even on university selection. Inequalities in university selection between rural and urban candidates have, interestingly, become even more pronounced with the advent of the controversial quota system that was reintroduced by the Bingu wa

Students such as these are among the few that access quality education
Mutharika administration and now being perpetuated under the Joyce Banda regime. This assertion is supported by researchers Stella Kaabwe and Lillian Kamtengeni who state in the draft Malawi National Girls Education Strategy (2013) that they authored but was commissioned by the Planning Department at the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology that 91 percent of students in Malawian universities come from wealthy families, while less than 1 percent (0.7 percent) come from poor families. Kaabwe and Kamtengeni add: Malawis education system is characterised by large disparities that increase with the level of education. A households standard of living is the greatest factor in the discrimination in education. Access to each level of education suffers even more from gender, location and income disparities. Garbage in, garbage out University of Malawi academicsincluding a dean of faculty who spoke on condition of anonymity explained during interviews for this Exclusive Inquiry that the majority of students in public universities are those from urban areas with elite backgrounds who either went to conventional (national) secondary schools or were educated at international high schools where they left with A-Level certificates that almost give them an automatic entry into the government-run universities. Exclusive inquiry page 6

EPHRAIM NYONDO News Analyst


ames Nambuma, 18a Form Three student at Chididi Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) located in the dense hills of Chididi almost 20km west of Nsanje Bomahas a dream. I want to become a teacher. I think teachers are respected people. They are very educated and they earn money which makes them live a better life, says the boy who has never travelled beyond Nsanje Boma and has his teachers, while great personalities to look up to, as his only role models. To come to terms with that dream, however, there is an uphill path ahead that James needs to conquer.

A tale of Nsanjes unfortunate James


Not only is he supposed to pass the Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations, but must pass with a minimum of six credits to compete equally with other students for a space in public colleges, including those under the University of Malawi. I am working hard, very hard, he says, wearing a face brimming with youthful innocence. Every school day, James wakes up at 5am. It is not a tradition that after a bath, he will find breakfast before starting off for a kilometrelong journey to his school. Sometimes, and it is often, James says he goes to school without eating. My parents are just peasant farmers. They cant easily afford a packet of sugar. After all, I am not the only child in the house. In fact, I am the fifth born. I have four elder brothers, one sister and two younger brothers, he says. Carrying a glorious history of being the first in the Nambuma family to hold a Junior Certificate of Education (JCE), and having a strong belief that he will be the first, again, to hold an MSCE, James, accompanied by his classmate and friend, Chifuniro Mangulembe, starts off for school clutching a few notebooks under his armpit. Exclusive inquiry page 4

Photograph: ephraim nyondo

NATION on Sunday
AUGUST 4 2013

A rural students story through James lens


Exclusive Report page 3 As their old and worn-out shoes shuffle through the morning due, the two have a lot to discuss. We like talking about yesterdays lessons, about the harvests, about travelling as far as Blantyre to see how the city looks, about politics, about girls we admire, just about everything, he says. But rarely do they discuss the condition of their school and how it could affect their dreams. With an enrolment of 379 students, Chididi CDSS has four classrooms, a staff-room and eight teachers. None of the teachers is female. One teacher at the school says the teacher-to-student ratio there is 1:102. This is against the national benchmark of 1:50 and international yardstick of 1:40. Even worse, as you can see, we have few desks in the classrooms. So, the congress of these learners ends up sitting on the floor, something which is not ideal for the girls, says the teacher. That is not all. The teaching and learning materials, especially textbooks, are a hurdle here. A teacher in English confided in me that there is only one English literature book for each designated book and only stays with the teacher. Students rely on taking notes, and that is the only reference material they have to study while preparing for examinations. James, whose favourite subjects are sciencesespecially biology, agriculture and Physical Sciencehas never seen a science laboratory in his life. Science subjects here are taught like English: purely theoretical, yet in times of national examinations, James will have to sit for practical examinations. Exclusive inquiry page 5

Ishmael: His lucky story


EPHRAIM NYONDO News Analyst

ames Nambuma did not choose to be born in Chididi, Nsanje, to a family of small-holder farmers. But neither did Ishmael Magadi, 15, elect to be born at Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) in Lilongwe to a family of a banker and a primary school teacher. This is what is known as accident of origin. Unfortunately, the accident of originsomething Ishmael and James cannot controlhas become the very essence of defining who they might become in the future. Ishmael, who lives in Blantyres Zingwangwa Township, will, just like James, be in Form Four in the academic year starting this September, at Zingwangwa Secondary School in the city. Like James, he has great dreams. I want to study economics and be a revered economist like Mathews Chikaonda, he says showing me a picture of Chikaonda published in one the countrys daily papers. Chikaondaa highly regarded business leaderis the group chief executive officer of Press Corporation Limited (PCL), the countrys largest conglomerate that counts National Bank of Malawi, Peoples, TNM, Malawi Telecommunications Limited, among other powerful brands in its stable of companies.

Chikaonda: The source of inspiration for Yamikani


He is also a former university professor in America, ex-governor of the Reserve Bank of Malawi and a former minister of Finance and chairs boards of several companies and bodies. His [Chikaondas] English is great and his words are packed with sense and wisdom. I am praying to God so that he guides me in this path, says Ishmael. He is likely going to walk on this path, a trail that looks well paved for him by nature. His father, as a banker, studied economics as well and there are a lot of economics discussions in his house and a lot of textbooks on the subject. He is also exposed enough to many disciplines to make an informed career choice. Being the second born in the family of three, he makes it a point to visit his elder brother, Yamikanian alumni of Zingwangwa as well who is in his second year studying engineering at the Polytechnic in Blantyre, another constituent college of the University of Malawi. The other being Chancellor College where Yamikani, like the Nsanje-based James, hopes to get a place to study for a degree. On the way to see his brother, Ishmael passes through the corridors of

College of Medicine, and while at Polytechnic, he has a chance to interact with his brothers friends studying economics at Chancellor College. They constantly tell me that, if I want to be an economist, I should be good at mathematics and English. Beyond that, they inspire me with stories of how sweet college life is, and all that. I cant wait, I cant wait, says Ishmael, who has also been to Chancellor College campus. His parents may not be described as rich. However, they are a middle-class family who provide every basic necessity Ishmael needs to fertilise and water his dream to fruition. After a routine breakfast and a packed meal slotted in his bag, Ishmael joins friends for a 10-minute walk to the schoola school well fenced and classrooms packed with desks. Zingwangwa is not an ideal school; it has its challenges. But, arguably, it is not anywhere close to Chididi CDSS. It has a good number of teachers, most of them with university degrees. With an average pupil-teacher ratio hovering around 1:50, the school, also, has science laboratories for Ishmael and friends to, at least, put their Biology lessons into practice. We have a library, and if I cannot get the book I need, it Exclusive inquiry page 6

Photograph: NATION LIBRARY

NATION on Sunday
AUGUST 4 2013

Can Ishmael and James gaps be bridged?


EPHRAIM NYONDO News Analyst

James has faith


Exclusive inquiry page 4 He seems to have been indoctrinated with a nave way of how he will deal with these problems. I am told practical examinations are not that difficult. I hope I manage them, I just have a feeling, he says. Being a school with a ruthless history of having never sent a student to university and that the best MSCE score so far is 29 points in 2011, James and friends still feel they can beat history. This is despite the fact that when asked, they had no idea about how to score at MSCE level to get to the corridors of Chancellor College, the only tertiary institution familiar to their unexposed ears. The depth of their hope, however, is quite a bafflereally baffling. Yet it is not only them. Although government in recent years has spearheaded the war against ignorance by building a number of modern CDSSs in the country-side, there still remain a lot of remote areas still untouched. As argued by renowned educationist and blogger Dr Steve Sharra: If you are a poor Malawian, you send your children to a government school where they are crowded at an average of 150 pupils in a classroom. They have no textbooks, no desks, no toilets, and no water. The teachers are underpaid, overworked and demoralised. These conditions are too tough for most children, who drop out in droves. If they hold on, defying the fangs of dropping out, they poorly equipped for national examinationsend up in examination rooms where they compete with fellows across the country, some coming from well -equipped schools. Can James, coming from such a school, compete fairly with others from better schools and benefit from the equaliSing role that education is supposed to play in socio-economic development of the country? n

ith effective leadership, political will, coherent and consistent policies and appropriate funding mechanisms, it is possible to rid Malawi of the disparities, education experts and analysts have said. Associate professor of Education Sociology in the Faculty of Education at Chancellor College Dr MacJessie-Mbewe said that Malawi can learn from countries such as USA which has a good affirmative action initiative. For example, government can put a policy that those children from rural poor should compete among themselves for places in the university and secondary school and those from good urban schools should also compete among themselves. This can also lead to policy of quota system whereby rural poor schools should have their own quota in secondary school and good urban schools should have also their own quota proportional to their population. If worse comes to the worst, those from rural schools, once selected, can be given remedial courses to bring them to the level expected, he said. Jessie-Mbewe underlined that children in rural poor schools do not do well at school not because they are not intelligent, but because they are disadvantaged socially and educationally and deliberate effort should be taken to bring these on board. Some of our educational policies have increased these inequalities. For example, in the past, those who failed to go to secondary schools could go to DECs to improve their education status. However, the DECs were converted to CDSSs and they introduced

Chichiri Secondary School in Blantyre City has one of the best labs in the country
selection to CDSSs and limited them, and providing adequate educational resources, children the number of children to be can stay in school and attain selected there. Now, those an education. rural poor, who We will need cannot even to rethink the afford a good Now, those rural provision of private secondary secondary school school, where will poor, who cannot education if they go for them even afford a we are going to continue with to attempt to education if they good private reverse the are not selected to secondary school, numbers of CDSS? he said. Malawians who Educationist where will they dont have a Dr Steve Sharra go for them to secondary school said while there continue with education, he have been gains said. in primary school education if they Pushing a long enrolment, are not selected to term strategy as with almost key in increasing 100 percent of CDSS? university children starting education Standard One, the opportunities for challenge is that rural and urban half of them drop children, education activist out by the end of eight years. Limbani Nsapato said that If we improved conditions firstly there is need to expand by hiring more teachers and providing better conditions for the university infrastructure and beef up the teaching staff so that there is enough space to accommodate everyone. Government and private sector should be encouraged to open up more universities and university colleges so that more people that do well in secondary schools should have access to tertiary education. Furthermore, government should start tackling access, equity and quality issues from early levels of schooling, especially at pre-school and secondary education levels. Statistics show that very few children have access to pre-school or early childhood education and due to shortage of secondary schools less than one third of primary school graduates access secondary education, he said. Nsapato also added that schools should have Exclusive inquiry page 6

Photograph: james chimpweya

NATION on Sunday
AUGUST 4 2013

CDSSs are for poor rural-based children


Exclusive Report page 3 schools (CDSSs). CSSs are national secondary schools which take students from all over the country and district secondary schools that are just for the children of that district. CDSS, on the other hand, cater for the children that live around the school at the 10 km radius. The definitive difference between these two public secondary schools lies in geography. According to a 2000 report by Malawi Institute of Management (MIM), the majority of CDSSs are in rural areas. The implication of this finding, it can be argued, is that these schools mostly cater for the rural population where the majority of the poor live. In their 2009 study report titled The Malawi Education System and Reproduction of Social Inequalities: Implications for Education for Sustainable Development, Chancellor College associate professor of Education Samson Mac Jessie-Mbewe and senior lecturer Dr. Foster Kholowa uses the Central East Education Division (Ceed) as a microcosm to examine the implications of inequality when it comes to access to quality education between rural and urban students. In their study, Mac JessieMbewe and Kholowa found that in Ceed, there are 122 public secondary schools in rural areas. Out of these schools, 101 are CDSSs, representing 83 percent of the public secondary schools in that division. The poor have the worst schools According to the CDSS policy, these schools are all day secondary schools and all pupils to the CDSSs will be drawn from primary schools within the local catchment area of CDSS [and] this catchment area will not exceed 10 kilometres. The implication of this policy, when applied to the division studied, means that CDSSs, which mostly offer substandard education, are the preserve of rural-based children. CDSSs are notorious for lacking teaching and learning materials, harbouring unqualified teachers and boasting poor infrastructure compared to CSSs. Mac Jessie-Mbewe and Kholowa argue that their finding is sufficient to conclude that if the majority of the CDSSs are in rural areas Exclusive inquiry page 7

In other words, children of middle to high income earners dominate university slots owing to their superior quality of secondary education, especially in the age of quota in which ones district of origin matters more than where he or she wrote the examinations from no matter how substandard the input one received. Public secondary schools, in the first place, are of two major categories: conventional secondary schools (CSSs) and community day secondary

Political will needed to bridge education gaps


Exclusive inquiry page 5 equal access to resources that determine quality of education in primary and secondary education. These include qualified teachers, adequate teaching and learning materials, adequate classrooms and timely methods and advisory services. This will not only increase opportunities for more students to qualify for University education, but it will also increase equal chances of students doing well in University entrance and continuing examinations, he said. Above all, for all these proposals to work, according to Jessie-Mbewe, Malawi needs a strong political will. When I say political will, I do not mean only political leaders but we as a country, we should politically be willing to help the disadvantaged people to continue with education and we should be led by our political leaders. We should know that politics is in every community and the people we elect as politicians, they are just our political leaders but we are all politicians, he said. n

Urban students tale through Ishmael


Exclusive Report page 4 is either I try to look for it at the National Librarywhere I am a memberor my father buys it for me, he says. Ishmael is not allowed to just sleep without studying or seen idling when the books are waiting. He tells me there is a desk in his bedroom which his parents bought for him, specifically, for his studies. I am working hard, very hard. I dont want to be an embarrassment. With God grace, I know, I will make it, he says. Why not? He seems to have everything going for him. n

Most rural-based schools do not have reliable learning structures as the one above

Photograph: NATION LIBRARY

NATION on Sunday
AUGUST 4 2013

HHI Secondary School in Blantyre City is one of the best in Malawi, but how many rural-based students can find their place here?

Most urban-based children have access to well-trained teachers


Exclusive inquiry page 6 and students who go there are taken from the surrounding primary schools, then majority of the children who go to CDSSs are from rural areas and from poor families. In contrast, most CSCs are found either in urban areas or townshipswhere most of the middle to upper class citizens live with their children. Mac Jessie-Mbewe and Kholowa contend that even though theoretically some conventional secondary schools were supposed to draw children from both rural and urban primary schools, most of the children who attend CSSs come from primary schools that have adequate and well-trained teachers who are mostly located in the urban or township areas. According to 2007 government records, qualified teacher-pupil ratio in primary schools in 2007 academic year was 1:95 in rural Examinations [PSLCE] are primary schools against 1:49 selected to conventional in urban primary schools. This, adds Jessie-Mbewe and secondary schools while those whose performance is Kholowa, means that urban lower are selected to CDSSs, primary schools have more they write. qualified teachers than rural Teacher-pupil ratio in primary schools and chances CDSSs is also of urban primary worse than in schools sending CSSs. children to CSSs are Official higher than rural Most CDSSs statistics show primary schools. do not have that students This is so enrollment because with more science increased from well qualified 67 percent teachers, urban laboratories in 2005 to schools provide and as such, 70 percent in higher quality 2007 in CDSS education to their science compared to pupils than rural subjects are CSS, where schools whose teachers are less not adequately it fell from 33 percent qualified. taught in these in 2005 to This follows 30 percent in the selection schools. 2007. procedure to Even on the secondary school availability of as done by the qualified teachers, CSSs rank Ministry of Education. Since higher than CDSS. the education system in A 2002 Ministry of Malawi is so competitive, Education baseline study only those who get very for the secondary education high grades in Primary project found that among School Leaving Certificate the secondary schools surveyed, only 10 percent of the teachers in CSS were not qualified against 77 percent of teachers in CDSS who were unqualified. The story is not different when it comes to teaching and learning materials. As observed by Mac JessieMbewe and Kholowa, most CDSSs do not have science laboratories and as such, science subjects are not adequately taught in these schools. Absence of electricity in rural areas is also a setback for a rural learner. With less than seven percent of the 14 million people in the country having access to electricity, especially in urban areas, most CDSSsmainly based in rural areashave no electricity. This, arguably, makes it difficult to teach some subjects that require electricity, especially science subjects that demand conduction of experiments. These contrasting, poles apart instances, have had drastic effects on the overall performance of students in CDSSs. For example, in 2000, only 14 percent of students in CDSSs passed MSCE compared to 33 percent in CSSs. The policy myopia The greatest challenge, as noted by Mac JessieMbewe and Kholowa, is that education in Malawi is competitive and national examinations determine who should move from one level to the next. However, the mobility from one level to another does not depend on passing the national examinations only but also selection. For example, not all students who pass MSCE go to university but only those who pass very highly. The selection, unfortunately, is based on merit and not on what type Exclusive inquiry page 8

Photograph: nation library

NATION on Sunday
AUGUST 4 2013

Probing quota system


Government in 2009 reintroduced quota systemguised as equitable selection into the University of Malawito, according to the Ministry of Education, give the less fortunate Malawians access to public university education. Under the system, Unima reserves 10 spaces for every district and the remaining spaces are competed based on merit. The system is still being used up to now. But how much is the system helping to create a Malawi where James and Ishmael, both hardworkers with dreams, can compete fairly for a place in our public universities?
2. BENEDICTO KONDOWE, executive director of Civil Society Coalition for Quality Education (CSQE) The quota system is not in any way responding to the deep-seated inequalities in the education system as it is more addressing symptoms. Quota system does not address intra-district inequalities rather than regional, as such it is technically accepting intra-district inequalities. There are disparities within given district, for example conventional and CDSS that any meaningful policy should aim at bridging. Unfortunately, quota system does not look at such disparities in terms of how differently schools are resourced within the district in terms of staffing, TLMs, libraries and laboratories etc. My view has been to look at long-term incentives to trigger better results than 3. DR MAC JESSIE-MBEWE, Associate professor of education sociology at Chancellor College The quota system is good affirmative action but the problem was that it was mis-targeted. Since the major emphasis was on region, it became politicised and tribalistic. The quota system should look at the rural urban inequalities in all districts. Each district has the rural disadvantaged and the urban advantaged but also there are some districts which are mostly rural and the children performance in these is not good. So the quota system as of now does not fully respond to the problem at hand. You will observe that most of the people

the way the quota system is being implemented which in my view is too discriminatory. The policy also runs contrary to democratic principles of fairness.

who argue for and against quota system do not have a theoretical background about it and then their arguments are just emotionally charged.

1. LIMBANI NSAPATO, acting regional coordinator and policy and advocacy manager for Africa Network Campaign on Education for All (ANCEFA) Quota system has offered solutions in some countries and is good idea in the short term, but the way it has been implemented in the country has had shortfalls in terms of planning and targeting. Broad-based consultations have not been held to ensure public ownership, and targeting has just looked at district level without other factors such as disability and rural versus urban factors. There has also been lack of transparency in the way the system is being managed. As such, while it can be argued that is has provided opportunities to some marginalised populations, it may not be fully responding to the problem at hand.

DR STEVE SHARRA, renowned educationist and blogger The quota system was established with the aim of addressing regional inequalities in access to higher education, but it is not administered in a way that achieves its goal. Going by the figure that less than one percent of poor Malawians find their way to a university education, the quota system is failing the majority of poor Malawians and only serving wealthy Malawians. As Limbani Nsapato has argued repeatedly, a win-win quota system would give more weight to economic class, gender and disability.

Is quota system addressing the fundumental problem?


Exclusive Report page 7 of secondary school one attended. Consequently, because of the many problems that CDSSs face, very few students are able to pass the final national examinations as compared to students in CSSs, and furthermore, a negligible number of students in CDSSs manage to make it to university, they write. Given the urban-rural education inequalities outlined, is the quota systemguised as equitable selection into public university tackling the most fundamental problem of our time, or it is just a typical easy, short-sighted political way out to a more complicated challenge? According to the Ministry of Education, under the system, Unima reserves 10 spaces for every district and the remaining spaces are competed based on merit. The understanding is that each and every district in the country should be equally represented in the country s public universities. But this understanding assumes that the inequalities at the heart of the countrys education are rooted in the districts; to mean, some districts are well represented than the others. But how much opportunities to get to the university do, say 10 students, learning at a CDSS in rural Ntchisi have compared to 10 others from the same Ntchisi but learning in a CSS or an elite high school located in an urban area? Can these two students compete fairly? The differences between the two students, punctuated by poles-apart opportunities, are the potent marks of the inherent inequalities at the heart of our education systeminequalities that instead of being the great equalizers of the rich and poor have turned the countrys education system to be the greatest divider, leaving class gaps that will endure for generations. n