Why Malawi Must Consider Offering Free Secondary Education
Whether one is supportive of the idea or opposed to it, this is a debate whose time has come. There are substantive propositions being made on either side of the issue. I will address the merits of both sides, and conclude by pointing out why the country needs to stop being shackled by mistakes of the past and think about long term plans for how to grow Malawi’s human capital.
|Secondary school girls performing|
Then there is the curse of free things. The farm input subsidy programme is a prime example here. Eight years down the road, not only is the country unable to graduate into sustainable food security, the organization of the programme itself keeps becoming more wasteful and less efficient.
And while it is indeed true that “free” things encourage laziness, lack of responsibility and lack of imagination, the provision of education is an investment whose rates of return have a direct impact on the economic productivity of individuals as well as of a country as a whole.
The study, described in a paper titled The Rate of Return on Education in Malawi, found that university education in Malawi improved one’s earning potential by a whopping 66 percent. The importance of this finding is that one’s earning potential translates into a “ripple effect” whose impact extends to the economic potential of the nation as a whole, a point argued by Chirwa and Matita.
What this means is that more than 70 percent of Malawians aged 18 or older have never completed secondary school. Given the education rates of return from the Chirwa and Matita study, it does not need much explaining to understand some of the underlying reasons why Malawi’s economic productivity is one of the lowest in the world.
This is reflective of much of the country. At the UN women’s conference in New York last week Malawi’s Minister of Health Hon. Catherine wa Gotani Hara told the BBC that many Malawian teenage girls ended up getting married as a direct result of being unable to pay secondary school fees.
Writing on the teachers’ forum Bwalo la Aphunzitsi, Malawian education activist Limbani Nsapato expresses the opinion that in the 21st century, a primary school education no longer suffices. He argues that “skills pupils are getting from primary schools are not adequate for them to be creative and think critically as
|Secoondary school boys|
Learning from the FPE fiasco
We would need to establish how many schools and classroom blocks, labs, libraries, and hostels we would need to construct. We would also need to calculate how much the education budget would need to increase by, and to determine where the money would come from, among other considerations.
If properly and efficiently done, the benefits of a free secondary school education for the majority of Malawians could potentially transform the country. We do not have to start with a full scale, universal implementation; we can do it in a targeted way.
There are many who are able to afford the fees. Graduating from secondary schools with the essential skills, these students could bring new ideas and new energies into their communities. This would energise economic activity, and lift up the country's gross domestic productivity.
We would also need to come up with programmes for the many youths who are beyond secondary school age, but do not have any secondary school education. The existing Complementary Basic Education programmes need to be expanded beyond the 9-14 years age cohort to include young adults who are in their twenties and thirties. These need to be offered a complementary or alternative secondary school education, heavy on practical, technical and vocational skills.
As pointed out by Roy Hauya also on Bwalo la Aphunzitsi, one significant consequence of this expansion would be new pressure on our higher education system, already failing to cope with current demand. Chirwa and Matita have pointed out that one failure of the FPE reform was the neglect of the secondary school and university system, which were never expanded to accommodate the new numbers. Repeating this oversight would be a gross mistake. It would be better not to even make the attempt.
It took the visit of the strategy firm Boston Global Consulting to point out at a Sanjika workshop that education, in all its levels, needed to be at the centre of the whole economic recovery effort. There is no way the economy can grow when more than 70 percent of Malawians are deprived of the relevant skills and knowledge.
This article first appeared in The Malawi News of Saturday 16th March, 2013, under a different title.
Labels: Atupele Muluzi, Bwalo la Aphunzitsi, Catherine Gotani Hara, Economic Recovery Plan, Free Primary Education, Free Secondary Education, Limbani Nsapato, Malawi, Mirrian Matita, Professor Ephraim Chirwa, Roy Hauya