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Secondary Education in Malawi


Our interest in Secondary schooling has come from our belief that the education of girls will in the long term be vital to the any future development which might occur in the country.


There are three types of government secondary schools in Malawi. To be selected for such a school, students take an exam in Standard 8, end of primary education. Only the top third of students are selected to secondary schools. Of that 33%, students are sent to a National Boarding School, a District Boarding School, or a Community Day Secondary School. Most students are enrolled in a CDSS and it is the cheapest option for students. For some of the other 66% there are a myriad of private schools with varying reputations.


The state of girls’ education in Malawi


According to the World Bank, only 27% of Malawi’s girls enroll in secondary school, and just 13% will attend. Only a fraction of that 13% will actually finish 4 years of secondary school and only 5% of women nationally have passed their MSCE exam, which is the final exam in Secondary school.


In Malawi, gender inequity is seen from the relative under-enrollment of girls in secondary education. In rural areas alone, girls are outnumbered 10:1 by their male counterparts. Girls also consistently under-perform in national examinations and face dropout at a much higher rate, because everything is stacked against them.


In Malawi, all second level schools are fee paying.  A girls’ likelihood of attending and staying in school depends in large part on:


  • The extent to which she is released from family oriented tasks that her brothers would never be asked to do. Also, if there’s a choice, boys will always be chosen for secondary school;
  • Her ability to pay for not just school fees, but also the associated costs of education (uniforms, exam fees, supplies);
  • Her ability to get to school (often many miles away);
  • Her ability to avoid pregnancy and have access to accurate information about her own sexual and reproductive health;
  • Her ability to self-advocate her choices, avoid early marriage and family pressure to drop out;
  • Her access to information about post-secondary opportunities and career guidance information;
  • Her access to educated female role models.


If a girl completes primary school her average age of marriage raises significantly; if she has completed secondary school the age raises further still. After completing secondary school education a woman’s total fertility rate drops from above 6 to 4 or less children.


Our home-school visitation programmes have clearly shown that lack of education for girls are major factors in early marriage, pregnancy, relative poverty, and even in the continuing downward spiral of under achievement of entire communities. We note that even short periods of schooling make noticeable improvements in her future life. We feel that Malawi will only develop with the education of its girls.


We work with two school types in Malawi; one is a mission, fee paying, rural school, residential, co-ed school. We helped with funding for the school building and a hostel for girls, where girls come from long distances and are self-boarding in that they have to supply and cook their own food.


The others are Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) founded and managed by the community. In such schools, the Community finds donors for the building and the Government pays the teachers (well this is the plan, but wages are low and often late).


We pay fees for a growing number of Girls now, who have qualified for a CDSS. We also support many with uniforms, food, books, copies, exam fees and transportation (bikes usually). The chosen ones must be poor, have a good chance of success, and most of all be hard workers. We follow up in all the schools on their attendance, reports, and exam results and sometimes have school conferences with ourselves, schools, and parents/guardians to resolve issues; in effect becoming advocates.


We are very tough on results and always ready to make replacements if students are not doing their best – there are thousands of girls looking for the opportunity.


We support schools with books and equipment, teacher training, and classroom management. We put on classes for students using excellent teaching practitioners. We are now working on school libraries in order to get them organised, to store books properly, and train teachers how to use them.