WHAT HAPPENS TO THE 143,000 STUDENTS WHO HAVE NOT BEEN SELECTED TO PUBLIC SECONDARY SCHOOLS THIS YEAR?
Government needs to develop and implement a plan that integrates these dropouts into the socio-economic system, writes education expert Limbani Nsapato.
Congratulatory messages are flying all over for students that have been selected to secondary schools.
Elsewhere, there are sad faces of those who have been left out. And the sad faces outnumber the happy faces by a very wide margin.
The news is that the government, through the Ministry of Education, has released the results of the 2021 Primary School Leaving Certificate (PSLCE) exams.
We have been told that 226,809 candidates have passed out of 270,576 students who wrote the exams.
The government has also announced that a total of 83,835 candidates, representing 36.9 % of those who have passed (i.e 226, 809) have been selected to secondary school to start form one.
This translates to 142,974 candidates or 73.1% not being selected to public secondary schools. Around 20,000 lucky ones could go into private secondary schools, leaving 122,000 with no secondary school space.
They join the 43,767 candidates that have failed to obtain PSLCE. Some of those left out of the selection may repeat with the hope of making it next year after getting better grades, but the majority will just drop out from the school system altogether.
Government needs to develop and implement a plan that integrates these dropouts into the socio-economic system.
Initiatives like incorporating them into vocational education and entrepreneurship programmes (community skills centres) and agri-business could reduce the misery and desperation of such dropouts.
The number selected this year (83,835) is a drop by 1112 from last year’s number (84947). This is ironic given that the government has been constructing new classrooms and secondary schools under the USAID project which aims to construct 250 secondary schools.
Last year the Ministry of Education told us that at least 40 of these USAID project schools would be ready by end of 2021. This should have increased the number selected. Can the Ministry explain this anomaly?
Over the past two years (2020 and 2021) a total of 283,414 (142,974 in 2021 and 140,440 in 2020) candidates who passed PSLCE have been left out from the public secondary selection.
In 2020 out of the 225,387 who passed the PSLCE a total of 84947 were selected meaning that 140,440 were left out and could not find space in public secondary schools.
The tragedy is that this problem of having two-thirds of deserving students not making it to public secondary schools will not be resolved any time soon, even with the anticipation of 250 secondary schools (1,000 classrooms) to be constructed with support from USAID by 2023.
Currently, the country has 1500 secondary schools and enrolment hovers around 400,000. Meanwhile, primary school enrolment is around 5 million, suggesting that 13 primary school learners compete for one secondary school space.
To ensure everyone has secondary school space, the country needs to construct at least an additional 25,000 classrooms or at least 2,000 secondary schools.
This is a tall order which requires more than government to address. We need parents, NGOs, the private sector, and well-wishers to come in.
*Limbani Nsapato is a Malawian education expert and current Country Director Malawi at Edukans, but wrote this article in his personal capacity.