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Last update: 1 July 2022 h. 10:44
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Teachers' low morale results in poor examination results

The performance of the education sector in Malawi seems headed for disaster. This is evidenced by a drastic drop in pass rates and the HIV/aids pandemic which is killing an average of 600 teachers every year.
Charles Banda

A commission of inquiry appointed by the government to probe the causes of problems that are dogging the education system has just released the results of its findings.

The findings of the inquiry into the persistently poor performance of candidates sitting for the Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations has, in fact, exposed serious government policy disasters that contribute to mass failures. The Malawi School Certificate of Education, which is an equivalent of the British General Certificate of Education O' Level, is an all important examination in Malawi as it is a passort to many things including entry to the University and a prerequisite for those who aspire for white collar jobs both in public and private sectors.

The commission headed by veteran educationist, Lewis Malunga, has placed the blame at the door of Malawian President Bakili Muluzi. His election campaign promise (of free primary education without qualified teachers) it says has proved disastrous to the education system.

Muluzi and his ruling United Democratic Front proposed the introduction of universal free primary education as their rallying call in the run-up to the 1994 general elections. But while enrolment shot up and schools became overcrowded, the size of the teaching staff did not increase in corresponding terms.

Presently, the country's secondary schools need at least 12,000 teachers but there are only 4,968. Of these, only 1,628 are qualified to teach in secondary schools while the rest could do well in primary schools. They have been required to teach in secondary schools because of an acute shortage of teachers.

In its 100-page report, the Malunga Commission points out that the introduction of free primary education has resulted in increased enrolment, a development that has complicated the already under-staffed and under-motivated education system.

But the government had anticipated the dramatic increase in primary school enrolment. It quickly opened additional secondary schools but these were schools only in name. They had no teachers, no learning materials and no buildings.

"It did not help that the Muluzi government selected primary school teachers for a three-week training course before posting them to secondary schools. This was a recipe for disaster," Malunga's inquiry report notes. "Commissioners would like to believe that the steady drop in pass rates since 1995 to the present is associated with large increases in the number of inadequately prepared candidates".

Candidates for the Malawi School Certificate of Education increased from 7,000 in the early 1990s to 45,416 in 1999. According to the report, the increase did not correspond to both teacher capability and student population. "The increased number of candidates and examination centres over-stretched the human resources available to the extent that security, reliability and validity of the examination has been compromised," the report observes.

It charges that democracy has contributed to falling education standards in Malawi. Truancy is on the increase and students have thrown discipline to the winds under the guise of freedom of expression.

The commission of inquiry recommended a review of that policy. Their report urged the government to consider the introduction of cost-sharing mechanism. If the suggestion is accepted, the report says, "parents will have to contribute more than what they are currently paying in the form of school fees to ensure adequate supply of teaching and learning materials and improved infrastructure," Malunga said.

Muluzi appointed the commission of inquiry in the wake of consistently falling school certificate examination performance. In 1999 the MSCE pass rate was just under 30 percent while the year 2000 results recorded the lowest in history - a 13 per cent pass rate.

In the year 2001, results also recorded a dismal pass rate of 19 per cent. And just last year only 33 per cent passed. To the surprise of many people the Malawi National Examinations Board (MANEB) executive director Mathews Matemba described the pass rate of 33 per cent for the 2002 MSCE was "a big improvement" from 2001 when only 19 percent of the candidates who sat for the examinations passed. Matemba said his board was "very happy" with the 2002 MSCE results released in January this year reflect that both candidates and teachers were more serious with education.

"The results for the 2001 MSCE were a disaster and it looks like now people have realised that they need to work hard," said Matemba, adding that the public now has confidence in Maneb. "The results show that we're now being taken seriously. Government is also doing all it can to help in improving pass rates in examinations," said Matemba. A press statement from Matemba indicated that 18,487 out of 54,971 candidates passed the examinations. He said 54.23 per cent of those who sat for MSCE in conventional secondary schools have passed while Community Day Secondary Schools recorded a 21.79 per cent pass rate. Private schools produced a 42.96 percent pass rate while 26.89 per cent of external candidates passed the examinations. 5,254 candidates have been disqualified in the examinations for alleged cheating.

But James Manyozo, a secondary school teacher in Malawi's commercial city of Blantyre has described the examination results as unsatisfactory. He said it is a pity that the whole MANEB executive director is happy that less than 50 percent of the candidates who sat for the examinations have passed.

He observed that in the 1970s and 1980s, a pass rate of 33 percent would have best been described as an examination disaster and not a great improvement as Matemba has put it in. Educationists say it will take years for the Malawi education system to recover because it takes a long time to train a well-qualified teacher.

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