Achieving universal primary education in Malawi: quantity at the expense of quality?

Malawi committed itself to achieving universal primary education (UPE) after its first democratic election in 1994. The incoming government had a vision of how primary education could tackle chronic poverty. However, lack of sufficient finance has led to failure to honour pledges of free primary education (FPE). Whilst education expenditure has become more pro-poor, the costs of sending children to school are still too great for poor households.

A report from the University of Malawi looks at the funding of Malawi’s primary education system. It forms part of a project coordinated by the Institute of Development Studies to explore the relationship between public education spending and education outcomes in sub-Saharan Africa.

FPE was launched at a time when Malawi was ill-prepared. The country's economy was shrinking due to drought and suspension of aid flows (in protest at human rights abuses of the old government). The new government ambitiously promised to abolish all upfront and hidden fees and other parental contributions. Education officials lacked the means to deliver these promises and were left with hardly any time to plan for influx of an additional million pupils for the 1994-1995 school year.

Massive enrolment led to unprecedented demand for teachers. An additional 22 000 teachers were recruited, of whom 90% were untrained secondary school leavers. Increased education expenditure has been eaten up by increased salary costs. The fact that 85% of the budget for primary education goes on salaries leaves little for maintenance, furniture or teaching and learning materials.

Construction of new classrooms and schools has lagged behind enrolments. Urban districts have enjoyed higher levels of public investment in school construction than rural districts. However, construction has not kept pace with increasing enrolments resulting in extremely large and congested schools in urban areas. While central government has provided buildings in towns, in rural areas construction largely depended on parental contributions before FPE, which created imbalances between rural and urban schools.

The quality of schooling has been severely compromised by the enrolment increases. FPE has caused:

FPE has not led to any significant reduction in parental burdens as families still pay the largest proportion of the total costs of primary schooling. Hunger and lack of resources to buy proper clothes and learning materials are the main factors contributing to high drop-out rates. More than 20% of school-age children are not enrolled in school.

Malawi’s experience shows that:

‘Financing primary education for all: Malawi’, Institute of Development Studies, by Esme Chipo Kadzamira, Khwima Nthara and Foster Kholowa January 2004

Funded by: Department for International Development, UK

id21 Research Highlight: 29 November 2005

Further Information:
Esme Chipo Kadzamira, Khwima Nthara and Foster Kholowa
Centre for Educational Research and Training
Chancellor College
University of Malawi
PO Box 280

Tel: + 265 (0) 1 524 222 or 1 526 622
Fax: + 265 (0) 1 525 061 or 1 524 046
Contact the contributor: chipoek@chanco.unima.mw

Contact the contributor: eckadzamira@hotmail.com

Chancellor College, University of Malawi

Report available free on request

Contact the contributor: bookshop@ids.ac.uk

Other related links:
'UPE at all costs: Ugandan children flock to school, but quality suffers'

Education for all by 2015: how aid can help

'Quality matters in education'

'Improving Botswana’s progress towards universal primary education'

'Moneyed classes: public spending on universal primary education'

Mobilizing resources for EFA - report from UNESCO

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