First let’s briefly look at High School Education: Unlike primary school, high school is no longer free. Fees just for tuition fluctuate between MK 5000-9000/term at a community day high school; MK 8000-13,000/term ($18-$29) at a community open high school, attended by many students in the afternoon and evening, after dismissal of the day school students, and up to MK 50,000-120,000/term ($120-$270) at a government-supported private boarding high school. Not included are textbooks, stationery, school fees, mathematical instruments, etc. These fees are astronomic compared with the daily income of MK 500 ($1.10) of many rural Malawians and the high cost of basic staples for three meatless meals per day feeding a family of four that just about devours the daily income. In this context it is important to know that a family with two children is a Malawian oddity and that three meals a day are wishful thinking for the average rural family. Needless to say that high school education is a nightmare for the poor, the children as well as the parents. Many students are victims of the revolving door of poverty and numerous related ills sucking the lifeblood out of the poor; they are in and out of school depending on available funds. Not surprisingly, drop-out rates are staggering, between 15-20%, and graduation rates in 2013 hovered around 50% of the fortunate 13% of students that are attending high school in Malawi. Largely the same ailments plaguing the delivery of services to primary education, which is free and has therefore grown to unsupportable numbers, are weighing heavily on the high school level: too few qualified teachers, overcrowded classrooms, too few material resources for too many students… the list is long, and the needs are great!
Just an Example
Twenty-two letters have reached the scholarship coordinator. The letters express the cries for help of twenty-two girls teetering on the edge of a renowned school in Karonga, awaiting the fall from high school that had begun, full of promise, in the fall of 2013. The girls, all high achievers in their Primary School Leaving Certificate, were chosen by the government to attend one of the premier boarding high schools in Northern Malawi. The government, though, did not investigate the financial background of the girls’ parents/caregivers. From the headmaster’s report and the desperate letters of the girls, it is easy to gather that the cost of a boarding high school is and will ever be beyond the financial means of the girls’ parents or caregivers. The girls are stranded. They are devastated. The once well-functioning open high school system, a viable alternative to day and boarding high school education, was dismantled in Malawi in the 1990, when the government could not fulfill its mandate to build new day high schools. In its altered form of afternoon and evening school, the open high school system is now even more expensive than regular day education at a community high school. Nowadays, the average school performer is assigned by the government to a day high school, the marginal student is offered a space in the open (afternoon/evening) high school. The aforementioned assignment practice of the government needs help, and so do the bright girls whose parents cannot, or only partially, afford the basic school fees for their daughters in a day high school, let alone an expensive boarding high school. Let us remain hopeful for the girls. Change will come, slowly but surely, and change comes from the many girls who, despite of the challenges, do not give up on getting a good, affordable education … and it comes from donations from sponsors like you! Thank you very much, indeed.
College Education is a hurdle that just very few young women and men can take. Between 2003 and 2008, a meager 0.05% of the total population or 0.03% of the eligible high school graduates pursued a college education. More than 90% of the lucky ones admitted to college are really privileged inasmuch as they come from wealthy families that can pay for the full tuition, which ranges anywhere between MK 350,000 to MK 500,000/year ($787-$1124) for self-sponsored students at public institutions. The cost at private colleges is even higher. Government-sponsored college education at a price of MK 120,000-300,000/year ($270-$675) lowers the financial burden for the qualifying students; they frequently go to students who are able to pay for tuition in the first place. Poor families send less than 1% of their sons and daughters to college. There is no advisory support system in place to assist poor students. The remaining 8-9% are middle-class students, children from families that are usually able to contribute to the cost of college education but are unable to take on the entire financial commitment. Distance college education, which has only limited residential requirements, is a promising, emerging alternative to expensive residential college education. Its price tag is still MK 180,000-200,000/year ($405-$450) , included, though, are all necessary materials, fees, etc. One of the challenges in distance education is access to modern technology, another one lack of government policies and guidelines to solidify the reputation of distance learning as well as to streamline funding. Nevertheless, at this time there are some very good distance learning programs offered by a number of government institutions, among them teacher education (early childhood, primary and secondary), business administration, bookkeeping, science and information technology, sales and marketing management, community and rural development, human resource development, journalism, graphic media and nursing. Distance education holds much promise for the future of Malawi. It is part of a worldwide trend to make college education available to the great number of learners who, for whatever reason – unaffordability of conventional college education, residence in remote rural areas, family obligations, etc. – cannot take classes on campus.