ANOTHER SONA? PRESIDENT CHAKWERA’S BROKEN EDUCATION PROMISES
The capacity of citizens will not develop through one promise after another, but through action, action, and more action, writes Dr. Limbani Nsapato.
MALAWI: His Excellency President Rev. Dr. Lazarus Chakwera will this week be addressing the nation through the traditional state of the nation address (SONA) during the official opening of Parliament for the 2022/2023 fiscal year. As is often the case, the SONA is expected to detail the achievements of the President’s government and make promises for the new fiscal year and beyond.
Often such speeches don’t dwell much on broken promises. Since the nation will get the achievements anyway, I would like to challenge the president to do something expeditiously on broken promises in the education sector.
This challenge is based on the promises made in the president’s maiden SONA of 4th September 2020, just 2 months after being sworn in as 6th Republican President on 6th July.
On 4th September 2020, the president gave a gargantuan speech, full of energy and attractive, flowery language. But most importantly, there were many promises, especially for the education sector, the sector that puts bread and butter on my table. A quick analysis shows that most of those promises have turned out to be empty. But I will highlight just a few which I consider very pertinent.
One of the biggest promises for education was: “my administration is committed to ensuring that every child goes to school, stays in school, and finishes school. One way we will do this is by passing legislation and developing guidelines for implementing our manifesto promise to make primary school education compulsory”.
The Education Act (2013) provides in section 13 that “provision of primary education in government schools shall be free of tuition to all and compulsory for every child below the age of 18”.
Dr Chakwera’s promise of passing new legislation and developing guidelines has been broken; we neither have new legislation nor guidelines for implementing the Education Act provision of ensuring that education is compulsory for every child below the age of 18. In addition, there are several gaps in resources, governance and management that are pushing learners about of the system.
Consequently, 5 million adults are illiterate and 3 million primary and secondary school going- age children are out- of- school. Over the past 20 months that Dr. Chakwera has warmed the presidential seat and catwalked on that red carpet 450,000 primary school learners and 71,000 secondary school learners have dropped out of school, while thousands of college and university students have turned out to be beggars at risk of dropping out due to lack of fees.
Primary school completion rate has declined from 53% in 2019 to 50% in 2021, while secondary school completion rate has declined from 21% in 2020 to 20% in 2021.
Pass rate in MSCE has averaged 46.7% over the past two academic years, which is below the 58% average achieved since 2015 when the country adopted the global SDG #4. It is, therefore, evident that the administration has failed to ensure that every child goes to school, stays in school, and finishes school.
In secondary education, the president promised the removal of the quota system of selecting students. He said, “I want to assure all Malawians that while the previous administration made sure that its quota system was gone, my administration will make sure that it is dead”.
This promise was made after the previous regime had already removed the quota system only that some stakeholders were skeptical. Hence, in early months after making that promise government pledged during Secondary Education Technical Working Group meetings to embark on consultations around the selection system.
In addition, the Ministry asked the office of the Ombudsman to conduct an audit of the selection of 2019/20 primary education exams. More than a year later there is no information about the review of the selection system, and while the Ombudsman office completed the audit on the selection system, findings have not been made public or discussed with stakeholders.
The selection system has remained essentially as it was during the final year of the previous administration. We have also noted that to some extent form one national secondary school and university selection results have skewed more to the central region districts, which used to come third during national exams. In addition, thousands of students with better grades from some districts are being left out of secondary selection due to district-based selection for district boarding schools and CDSS.
Further, there is little being done to remove the school-related barriers that make it difficult for the majority of learners especially girls, children with special needs, and children from rural areas and impoverished households to compete on equal footing to warrant a pure merit-based selection system.
In the area of tertiary education, among others, the president promised to identify funding for the construction of Inkosi Mbelwa (Mombera) University for the study of animal science and increase enrolment in universities from 36,000 in the 2019/20 academic year to 48,000 in the 2020/21 academic year.
The promise has remained as it was on 4th September 2020. The two budgets passed in the August House for 2020/21 and 2021/22 have not allocated meaningful funding to complete the construction of the much-politicized Mombera university.
Mombera university remains a white elephant. In addition, public university enrolment has not increased by the promised numbers. The promise to increase public university enrolment from 36,000 to 48,000 meant an addition of at least 12,000 to the annual enrolment. In 2019/20 public university enrollment was 37,698. In 2020/2021 the enrolment figures were at 38,196. The difference between the two years is just 498.
Figures from National Council For Higher Education show that in 2019/20 the number of students admitted to public universities was 6,379. The figure rose to 6,941 in 2020/2021. These figures show that the annual intake has only increased by 562. Clearly President Chakwera’s administration has failed to add 12,000 students to the public university enrolment as promised in September 2020.
In the area of adult literacy, the president promised to increase the number of literacy centres and instructors to enroll at least 400,000 learners. In May 2021, there were around 10,000 adult education centres with an average capacity of 25 learners per class operating across the country. The number of centres has remained the same for the past five years, although there is need for 70,000 centres.
The number of instructors (for English and Chichewa Classes) has remained static over the past two financial years. In terms of English instructors, the number has been stuck at 1,345 since 2019/20.
For Chichewa the number has stood at 7,600. No movement. The adult literacy budget currently at 0.08% of education budget is far below the international benchmark of allocating at least 3% of the education budget. On 22nd January 2022 an official from Ministry of Gender which coordinates Adult Literacy programmes in the country told Zodiak Radio in a special report that Adult Literacy Programmes are allocated just k60 million annually, not sufficient to expand the programmes and enroll more adults in the centres.
Enrolment in adult literacy classes was 141,756 in 2019/20. In 2020/21 it declined massively to 17,643, which can’t compare with the promise of 400,000 learners. Someone may attribute this to Covid 19, but evidently, it is another promise broken.
There is no quality education without happy teachers. To this end the administration of President Chakwera promised Malawians that it would “improve the conditions of service for teachers by, among other things, providing them with decent housing; a predictable career and promotion structure; and clearing all salary and leave grant arrears”.
If you go to the schools, most teachers are very unhappy. They complain about low salaries, they complain about lack of decent housing, they complain about unpaid salary arrears and leave grants. In the context of Covid 19, teachers have been short-changed.
Government failed to fulfill a signed agreement of providing risk allowances in 2020/2021 amidst failure to provide adequate personal protective equipment and ensure that each teacher is vaccinated against covid 19. Most teachers don’t live in decent housing.
As of end 2021 out of the 77,929 public primary teachers, just 17,364 (22%) had permanent teachers houses. Majority (78%) of the teachers totaling 60,565 had no decent houses. Furthermore, teachers are exposed to heavy workload because of acute teacher shortage. With a qualified teacher- pupil- ratio of 1:68 in 2020 and 1:62 in 2021 against the international benchmark of 1:40, many teachers in Malawi teach large classes.
As of 2021 at least 8,851 primary school teachers (10% of the total) have been teaching two or more standards instead of one per day, with some teaching up to an average of 90 periods a week as is the case in Nsanje, Chikhwawa, Mzimba South, Mchinji, Lilongwe city, Mangochi, and Zomba rural. The country needs to recruit an additional 52,459 teachers to reach a teacher pupil ratio of 1:40 and reduce the heavy workload. There are over 20,000 teachers sitting idle and yet trained from IPTE cohorts 13 to 17.
There is no plausible explanation as to why government decided to recruit only 5,000 teachers in 2021/22 amidst the heavy deficit, workload and bid number of idle teachers. Furthermore, the issue of salary and leave grant arrears remains unresolved, while teacher promotion remains elusive with around 50,000 teachers having worked in grades L, K and J.
On the issue of promotion majority of teachers have remained on grade L for at least four years while some have taught up to 32 years without promotion.
Most of the promises require substantial investment in the education sector. The global financing architecture is guided by benchmarks. In 2015 the UNESCO Incheon Declaration urged countries like Malawi to spend or exceed 6% of the GDP or 20% of the national budget towards education.
Moreover, in July 2021 both the President and his Minister of Education attended the Global Partnership for Education Replenishment Summit in London, where government promised to allocate at least 21% of its budget towards education. Even though government has allocated a lion’s share of its budget to education the allocation falls short of the benchmarks.
For instance, in the 2021/22 financial year education was allocated the highest budget of at least K327 billion. However, the lion’s share translated to 17.5% of the national budget, and 4.4% of the GDP, way below the global benchmarks and the promises.
Moreover, the budget allocated was 50% below K646 billion projection set out in the National Education Sector Investment Plan (2020-30) a medium-term blueprint for achieving Malawi 2063.
To conclude, it is important for the president to repair the damage caused to the education system through broken promises. As he said during the 4 September SONA, education is a catalyst for national development, and “we must develop the capacity of our citizens by giving them skills that are competitive in the fast-changing world”.
The capacity of citizens will not develop through one promise after another, but through action, action, and more action.