Saturday, July 04, 2015

Malawi at Fifty One: The Education Legacies of Malawi's Presidents Hitherto

It is a noteworthy paradox that while the seventy years Malawi was under colonial rule from 1894 to 1964 there was no university, within nine months of independence, Malawi had one (Cuthbert Kachale, 2015). In ensuring that Malawi got a university just months after independence, the founding president of the country, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda made clear the pioneering role that higher education was going to play in the development of the country.

However the advances our higher education system has accomplished have not been optimally used to improve the overall education system and classroom practices. I argue in the ensuing discussion, as we mark fifty one years of independence, that the failure to use the higher education system to improve the quality of teaching and the teaching profession has cost the country in development terms. 

When schooling is fun
The road to independence was tortuous and meandering. The first Malawians to become cabinet ministers were sworn in four years before independence. That year, 1961, Malawi’s population was 4 million people, according to the late Kanyama Chiume (1982), in his eponymous autobiography. In that year, the country had 30 university graduates, 7,100 Standard 8 candidates, and 500 secondary school spaces. As the first Minister of Education, Chiume knew that enrollment needed to rapidly increase at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels of the education system. He devoted the short time he spent as Minister of Education to pursuing that goal.

The efforts paid off. As independence came and Malawi poised herself to enter the decade of the seventies, enrollment at the primary level was expanding exponentially. According to Harvey Sindima (2002), by 1970 Malawi’s primary school enrollment had shot to 333,102, while that of secondary schools has increased to 9,686. A total of 977 Malawians were attending the University of Malawi. For the next two decades, the numbers kept doubling, as did the national population.

By 1990 Malawi had 1,325,453 primary school students, 16,432 secondary school students, and 1,620 university students. Expansion at the primary level did not correspond with expansion at secondary and tertiary level, leading to the lowest higher education enrollment rates in the world fifty years later (Government of Malawi, 2014). But Kamuzu’s penchant for prestige was best personified in the magnificent Kamuzu Academy, founded in 1981. An elite secondary school, it has educated a significant number of Malawians providing leadership in the public and private sectors, and internationally.

During Kamuzu Banda's reign, civil servants, including teachers, were posted to any part of the country, according to need. It did not matter where one came from. In 1989, Kamuzu Banda announced at a political rally that some teachers teaching away from their districts of origin were not dedicating themselves fully. He decreed that with immediate effect, teachers who were teaching away from their home districts should relocate to their home districts.

Most districts in the country were affected by this decree, as some lost huge numbers of teachers. Some have argued that teachers from the northern region of Malawi were the most affected. Thousands of them had been teaching in the central and southern regions, and were forced to return to the northern region. But there were also schools in the northern region which lost teachers as well. Some believe that the quality of education was drastically affected by this decree. In the absence of a substantive, detailed analysis, the jury is still out as regards the merits and demerits of the decree.

In terms of keeping pace with the population and providing quality education to as many Malawians as possible, doubling enrolment rates over the decades was insufficient. There was need for much more rapid rates of increase. That was left to Dr. Bakili Muluzi, the man who succeeded Dr. Kamuzu Banda to become Malawi’s second president. Muluzi pledged universal primary education, which entailed removing school fees from primary education and making it free. It became his first major education reform as soon as he was sworn in as president in 1994. The number of primary school learners went up from the 1.9 million it had reached in 1993, to 3.2 million in 1994. The Muluzi government recruited 20,000 new teachers that same year to become student teachers, teaching during the school year, and undergoing training in college during the holidays.

It was during Muluzi’s presidency that teacher development centres (TDCs) were introduced, numbering 315 across the country. The school inspection system was transformed from district-based inspectors to zone-based advisers, also numbering 315 to match the number of TDCs. Regional education offices (REO) were turned into education division offices, led by Education Division Managers (EDMs). The number went from three regional offices to six divisional offices.

A very ambitious plan to expand access to secondary school education envisioned the construction of 250 community day secondary schools. This would have increased the primary to secondary school transition rate from the erstwhile 11 percent, to 70 percent, according to Roy Hauya (1996). The country was able to establish new community day secondary schools, but not numbering the promised 250. In higher education, Muluzi’s administration gave Malawi its second university. What was Mzuzu Teachers’ Training College was converted into Mzuzu University, and became operational in 1999.

By the time Muluzi left office and was succeeded by Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika in 2004, the education system had come to be characterised by failures resulting from the shock of UPE. Class sizes had ballooned into hundreds, particularly for lower primary, and teacher morale was very low. Teaching and learning materials became scarce, and physical structures were in a state of disrepair. Bingu wa Mutharika sought to stabilise the system by pledging to adequately fund the sector at all levels from primary to tertiary. In his first term, from 2004 to 2009, the system experienced relative stability.

Mutharika had big plans for higher education. Talk of a new university started in his first term, and in his second term construction of the Malawi University of Science and Technology started. The university had initially been intended for Lilongwe, the capital city, but Bingu decided to move it to his home district in Thyolo, on land he said he had donated for that purpose.  By the time Bingu died in April 2012, the university was still under construction. It would be completed and opened during the presidency of his successor, Dr. Joyce Banda, becoming Malawi's fourth public university.

During Bingu's presidency, Bunda College of Agriculture, a constituent college of the University of Malawi, became an independent university. That brought the number of public universities in the country to three. Private universities, which were almost non-existence during Kamuzu's time, began thriving during Bingu's presidency. The government also moved to start regulating the higher education system, and the National Council for Higher Education was formed, becoming operational during Joyce Banda's rule. 

The two years Joyce Banda was president of Malawi were not enough for her to leave large visible footprints on the system. However it was while she was president that the country witnessed an unprecedented emphasis on girls’ education, an idea she championed both in public and in private. Towards the end of her tenure the Ministry of Education, Science and technology launched the National Girls Education Strategy and the Girls’ Communication Strategy. It was a befitting moment for Joyce Banda’s efforts to highlight the importance of keeping girls’ in school and reversing the troubling trend of so many girls dropping out due to early marriages.

There was a visible attempt during Joyce Banda’s presidency to bring teachers’ welfare to the fore. This was seen by some as an attempt to placate teachers after Dr Banda had made remarks that teachers had construed as demeaning of them. On two occasions she had alluded to how cattle farmers made more than teachers, betraying a lurking contempt.

The effort to address issues of teachers’ welfare came toward the end of her presidency. Joyce Banda’s last Minister of Education, Dr. Lucious Kanyumba, toured the whole country and met teachers. He spoke about what the ministry was doing to end chronic problems of late salaries and low teacher morale. Teachers told him of their problems. Coming during the high campaign season, with weeks to go before the election, many teachers saw it as a campaign ploy.

When Professor Peter Mutharika took over from Dr. Joyce Banda in May 2014, he picked up from where he had stopped during his older brother’s presidency. As Minister of Education in the late Bingu wa Mutharika’s presidency, Peter Mutharika first introduced the idea of community colleges in 2010. As soon as he was sworn in, he set about accomplishing that task. Midway through 2015, some community colleges have already started operating. President Mutharika has already embarked upon a project to construct another new university, in Mzimba district.

However at the primary and secondary school levels, the problem of teacher morale, the most significant of the problems afflicting Malawi’s education system, is getting worse. Today, anger amongst Malawian teachers has become so pervasive it severely corrodes the education system. In the first of 2015, salary delays took a turn for the worse. Leave grants and rural hardship allowances went unpaid for several months and many teachers in many districts stopped teaching. With communication from the ministry not forthcoming, teachers resorted to asking fellow teachers on facebook groups for updates. It is frightening to imagine how these angry, bitter, frustrated and demoralised teachers are treating children under their care.

Despite the difficulties, there are many teachers who continue dedicating themselves. There are teachers who are unleashing their creative energies in their classrooms and schools, inspiring children. There are teachers who are so hungry for more education and professional development they are going out of their way to find opportunities. There are Malawian teachers using the power of the Internet to connect with other teachers in Malawi and around the world. Most of them remain unrecognised and unrewarded, but they continue, undaunted, aiming at a higher prize: national development.

Can Malawi afford to make teaching a high-prized, coveted profession?

The first fifty years of Malawi’s existence as an independent nation have had their highs and their lows. When few Malawians had access to education, the quality was commendable. When more Malawians were afforded the opportunity to go to school, quality plummeted. Quality and quantity need not be mutually exclusive. The starting point for improving quality while expanding access needs to be the quality and welfare of teachers. As we turn fifty one years old, this needs to be top of our educational agenda.

What we have learned from the best educational systems on the planet is that investment in teachers is the most important factor for national development. When the teaching profession is highly prized, prestigious, and rewarding, it can propel a country to greater heights. The creative possibilities from committed and motivated teachers are endless. They become a catalyst for development in many sectors. Malawi still awaits a president who will have a profound understanding of how an empowered and highly educated cadre of teachers, particularly at primary and secondary level, as well as at tertiary, can transform the nation. Will Professor Peter Mutharika be that president?

Note: A version of this article appeared in the April-May issue of The Business Journal (Malawi), published by The Student Media Group. I would like to thank Mike Chipalasa and Cuthbert Kachale for feedback that has resulted in updates to the article.

Towards Agenda 2063: Pan-Africanist Education and the African Renaissance

The drama of the ICC’s determination to arrest Sudan’s president Omar Al Bashir played itself out exactly three weeks after the commemoration of this year’s Africa Day. That fact epitomises the thorny, rocky road Africa’s renewal will have to go through. Six weeks later, I am still basking in the after-glow of this year’s Africa Day commemorations, which was my first time to actually actively participate.

On May 25th I attended an Africa Day Expo at the Kara Heritage Research Institute, in Tshwane, South Africa, where African pride and determination were in full display. In the evening, I attended the 6th Annual Thabo Mbeki Africa Day lecture at the University of South Africa (Unisa), delivered by Nobel Peace Laureate and former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei.

Young Africans performing at the Africa Day Expo, 25th May 2015,
Kara Heritage Institute, Tshwane, South Africa

The day was observed and commemorated in several African countries. In South Africa, several cities and towns put on celebrations. The day set alight social media and the hashtag #AfricaDay2015 was trending in the African twitter-sphere. Across the continent, several conferences preceded the day, focusing on all things Pan-African. The watch words, in many of those conferences and commemorations, were Pan-Africanism, the African Renaissance, and Agenda 2063.

Taken together, these three ideas represent the conceptual landmarks guiding the path to the future Africa we want. I attempt to share, in this article, my reflections on what lies ahead in the gargantuan endeavour to shape an educational agenda for the kind of future that Africans are currently working on. This year’s Africa Day commemorations, and the conferences held in the lead up to 25th May, provide much of the impetus for my reflections.

One such conference was the 5th African Unity for Renaissance (AUFR), held on two campuses of the University of Johannesburg (UJ), Kingsway and Soweto, in South Africa. The conference’s theme was “2015 and Beyond: Engaging Agenda 2063”. I went to the conference looking to network with fellow educators on bringing the three concepts of Pan-Africanism, the African Renaissance and Agenda 2063 into classrooms in the Pan-African world. That means on the continent and in the diaspora.

I came back from the conference, and the Africa Day celebrations, with a zest and determination to play a role in making Agenda 2063 successful. Africa’s future is too important to be left to the African Union alone. The AU has ostensibly engaged high gear in taking on the enormous challenges the continent faces, but much more work needs to be done for ordinary Africans to own the process of Africa’s renewal and work side by side with the Pan-African body. For this to happen, it means every African has to decide what they are best able to contribute, and identify others with similar convictions. The bottom line is that the renewal of Africa, as expressed and articulated in the African Union’s Agenda 2063, must be driven by the people.

The opening night of the 5th AUFR provided a catchphrase that remained on the lips of everyone for the rest of the conference. Dr Elizabeth Rasekoala, founder and co-chair of the Pan-African Solidarity Education Network, argued that calling the new African Union’s vision “Agenda 2063 sounded as if the continent would have to wait until that date. That was too far away. “We need Agenda Now Now!” she declared, to loud applause from the audience. To be clear, Dr. Rasekoala was not dismissing the idea of a 50-year plan. She was just stressing the urgent need to get started with the agenda and use every single day to work toward it. The AU itself is not waiting until 2063.

Although it was Al Bashir who dominated the news at the 25th African Union Heads of State summit in Sandton, Johannesburg, South Africa, the actual agenda of the summit was women’s empowerment. The AU has designated 2015 as the “Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development Towards Africa’s Agenda 2063.” A significant part of the summit was expected to get started with developing the first ten-year agenda toward 2063, and placing women’s empowerment as a pillar for the agenda.

The role of women as being at the heart of Africa’s renewal is what Dr. Rasekoala says is the single most important thing for the continent. She confirmed this in the opening plenary session of the 5th AUFR. As the session was drawing to a close, director of ceremonies for much of the conference, Professor Chris Landsberg, UJ’s SARCHi Chair in African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy, had one question for all the three speakers on the plenary. “Is there one thing you think the AU needs to do as the single most important thing for the continent?”

In addition to Dr. Rasekoala, an engineer, the other two speakers were Professor Mammo Muchie, SARCHi Chair in Innovation and Development at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT); and Professor Adebayo Olukoshi, Director of the United Nations African Institute for Economic Development and Planning in Senegal.

Dr. Rasekoala did not hesitate to mention gender as the single most important thing. She said it was of pivotal importance to enhance women’s participation at the highest levels of public service, politics and business. For Professor Muchie, the most important thing was to stop the negative narrative about the continent. He said it was time to start focusing on the historical greatness of the continent, on what is working today, and on the Africa we want for the future. For Professor Olukoshi, it was to “open the borders. Let Africans move freely.” He added that he had been consistent on this for a long time.

The call to open up African borders seems to be growing in intensity. Speaking to South African youth on Tuesday 16th June, which is celebrated as Youth Day in South Africa, President Jacob Zuma singled out the borders issue as one of the major things discussed at the 25th AU Heads of State Summit. He tied the idea to the importance of South African youth learning about the rest of the continent and being proud of their African heritage. Following the continental outrage in the wake of the Afro-xenophobic attacks in South Africa in April, the country seems to be galvanising a new resolve and reconsidering its place and influence on the continent.

This was evident at the 5th AUFR conference as well. In his welcoming remarks, UJ’s Deputy Vice Chancellor Professor Tshilidzi Marwala evoked Pan-Africanism’s ancestry when he spoke of the importance of teaching young Africans what Kwame Nkrumah used to say that Africa was one people and one nation. That meant, said Professor Marwala, no African was a foreigner on African soil. And those sentiments were repeated by South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba, who gave the conference’s opening keynote address. In a wide-ranging and frank accounting of the complexities of South Africa’s place on the continent, Hon. Gigaba said South Africans needed to respect all immigrants, including those in the country illegally.

Although xenophobia has openly manifested itself in South Africa, anti-foreigner sentiments are evident not only across the continent, but across the globe. The onus falls on every African country to deal with this problem and promote an African identity before a national one, as Professor Mammo repeatedly pointed out. Much of this work lies in school curricula and classroom pedagogy. It means teaching a different type of African history, one that digs deep into the contexts that have created the kind of Africa we have today. 

This is what was on the mind of Professor Adebayo Olukoshi on the opening night of the 5th AUFR. Professor Olukoshi situated his remarks in the opening plenary in Walter Rodney’s pioneering work, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Olukoshi argued that Rodney had provided empirical proof that before the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, Africa’s socio-economic status was at par with the rest of the world.

Not only did the slave trade depopulate the continent and set its economic progress back, it also robbed Africans of their dignity and self-worth. Africa was the only continent, observed Professor Olukoshi, where the world felt it had a God-given right to demand a seat at the table and dictate to Africans how to solve their problems. The argument being that Pan-Africanism is too important to be left to the Africans alone. And the ironies of Africa’s situation today are startling. In one perplexing anecdote, Professor Olukoshi noted how African leaders go to Europe and America for medical treatment, only to find that the doctor attending to them is a citizen of their own country.

What all this means is that knowing where Africa is today and the history that made the present is an inescapable part of the charge to chart the continent’s future. “We must begin with the children,” said Professor Mammo Muchie. But beginning with the children means changing the way the African Union’s Pan-African University idea is being implemented, an argument made by Professor David Horne, Chair of Africana Studies at California State University at Northridge in the USA. The focus needs to start with African children from their earliest education and be sustained all the way up to university education.

And young Africans must not be shielded from this history, a lesson shared on the second day of the conference, by Professor Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni. He is Executive Director of the Archie Mafeje Research Institute at the University of South Africa. Professor Ndlovu-Gatsheni was responding to a question as to whether this type of African history does not entrench an inferiority complex and prevent young Africans from actively participating in global discussions. Knowing who you are and being grounded in your history is what builds a foundation for the future, said Professor Ndlovu-Gatsheni. He added that he grew up in an African village, but he does not feel inferior.

For educators, the issue of what type of African history to teach is of central importance. Scholars such as Paul Tiyambe Zeleza and Pitika Ntuli have argued over the years that the history taught in African schools does not reflect the scholarship generated by African historians. The thrust of the curriculum remains Eurocentric, this in spite of the available knowledge of Africa’s history going back several millennia.

A compelling example of the kind of African history that is not reflected in the curriculum came from Dr. Diran Soumonni. A senior lecturer from the Wits Business School, Dr. Soumonni presented on Africa’s history and philosophy of science and technology, digging deep into Africa’s intellectual past, going to 4,000 years BC to when the Egyptians are known to have used a 30-day calendar. Dr Soumonni’s research demonstrates the feasibility of developing an education agenda at the heart of Africa’s renewal. 

Which brings me to what I see as the most urgent steps that those of us working in education, and those interested in the future of the continent broadly, must provide direction with.
A survey conducted by Jean Chawapiwa, Founder and Managing Director of Win Win Solutions 4 Africa consultancy firm, and presented at the conference, found that very few people have heard about Agenda 2063. Out of 327 respondents across the continent and beyond, 63 percent had never heard about Agenda 2063. Chawapiwa’s suggestions for how the AU can spread the word about the initiative need serious consideration.

Reaching out to as many Africans as possible will enable ownership of the agenda by ordinary Africans. It will enable grassroots participation, and will address the deeply felt grievance that the African Union is a dictators’ club out of touch with the needs of African people. It should be emphasised that there can be no grassroots ownership and participation if there is no translation of Agenda 2063 into local African languages.  The respondents in Chawapiwa’s survey made this clear.
African intellectuals have been unequivocal about this. 

Ngugi wa Thiong’o has spent more than three decades making this argument. Ngugi has said “African intellectuals must do for their languages and cultures what all other intellectuals in history have done for theirs. This is still the challenge of our history. Let’s take up the challenge.” The educational implications of such an ambitious agenda are, no doubt, enormous. It requires educators, teacher educators in particular, to participate at every stage. And this is why I argue that Agenda 2063 is too important to be left to the African Union alone, the one occasion when it is legitimate to say this. It is also why I suggest that African educators need to consider making Agenda 2063 required reading in their courses.

Al Bashir is not the only hot coal gnawing away at the AU’s cauldron. The very concepts of Pan-Africanism, the African Renaissance and African Unity arouse intense debate amongst Africans and Africa watchers. There are multi-layered historical and contemporary grievances, internal and external. There are intricate webs of elitism, exclusion, collusion with Western capital and global influence, deep inequalities, and simmering injustices. It requires a spirit of hope, optimism and determination to see the problems as surmountable rather than intractable and impossible. Education is a good place to start.

Governments on the continent and in the African diaspora need to adopt Agenda 2063 into their national plans, as the African Union has already pointed out. In addition to the agenda, contemporary Pan-Africanism and the African renaissance need to be integrated into national educational policies, and into school curricula and classroom pedagogy from primary to university. 

The three concepts also need to become part of teacher education programmes for new teachers, and continuous professional development programmes for practising teachers. The AU needs a unit specifically dedicated to education. If there are deans of schools or faculties of education on the continent or in the diaspora, who feel a passionate sense of urgency about this, there begins Agenda Now Now. 

Note: A version of this article first appeared in Pambazuka News on 19th June, 2015