For almost four years now, I have had the privilege of visiting a number of secondary schools; most them in rural areas where I hold Girl Motivation Talks. Of course, in some schools the teachers would complain that I was being biased if I spoke to the girls only so I would speak to the boys too. This has really opened my eyes to the reality of the standard of our education system and the education for young girls in particular.
It’s amazing how education can liberate girls; according World Bank education directly influences the age a girl gets married, for instance when a girl completes primary school her average age of marriage rises to 19.5 and when she completes secondary school- the age rises to 22.1 and affects the country’s’ economy, in the sense that a one per cent increase in female secondary school attendance adds 0.3 per cent to the country’s average annual per capita income growth.
Unfortunately to date net enrolment rates for both boys and girls are high in the first two grades but only 26 per cent of children complete the entire primary school cycle; of these a meager 16 per cent are girls. Dropout rates hover around 15 per cent, with half of the children dropping out before the fourth grade. Only 27 per cent of Malawi’s girls enroll in secondary school, and just 13 per cent of those enrolled actually attend. Then only a fraction of the13 per cent actually finish the four years of secondary school.
Poverty is clearly linked to one’s education level; the appalling education statistics can clearly be traced to our level of poverty in Malawi and it’s not so surprising. Our country is among the 20 poorest countries in the world with over 40 per cent of the population living on less than $1 a day, even after all these years of independence .By failing to educate the girl child, we have ultimately failed to educate the nation hence currently reaping the fruits.
Obviously creating new policies is not enough to excite change alone; No action needs to be taken to support these policies. Although primary education is free the majority of government primary schools lack proper infrastructure: - Children still learn under trees due to lack of classrooms and the latrines are in a poor state with poor learning material and short of qualified teachers. This is not different for government secondary schools, most of these schools have equally poor infrastructure.
Basically the Malawi Government needs to improve in a number of sectors;
First the Government needs to needs to back up their policies with action:-For instance, the free primary education increased the enrollment of students but failed to keep a number of them in school possibly because of the poor learning condition which seems to affect girls more. In the absence of proper toilets and a secure learning environment, girls tend to shun going to school.
Again, the education standard seems to be dwindling; the curriculums (both for primary and secondary schools) were not necessarily designed to equip the students with skills for proper development and teach them to be self-reliant. The curriculum merely lays a foundation for secondary and tertiary (post-secondary) training and yet very few Malawians have that privilege of even attending secondary and tertiary schools. This issue coupled with untrained teachers and students cheating on national examinations hasn’t done the education standard any justice, generally improving the curriculum to incorporate self-development skills, training more teachers and coming up with measures to curb cheating in examinations could possibly improve the standard.
Last but not least the current process of selecting students into the government mixed boarding secondary schools is discriminatory- currently, two boys are accepted in these schools for every one girl selected . Although this has been happening for a long time, nothing has been done to change the situation. Revising this policy and adopting a one to one ratio of boys to girls during selection could help boost the number of girls in these schools.
But I know that success can be achieved-we just have to come together to take the steps to ensure that success.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.Voices of Our Future 2013 Assignments: Op-Eds