International Perspective: Girls’ Education: A Reflection on my time in Malawi
For 6 weeks she was working for Link Community Development doing research on gender and education in Malawi, with a focus on primary-level education. In her final blog for us she reflects on the time spent there.
As a Primary Education graduate who is currently studying Africa and International Development, it is understandable that I am passionate about education in the developing world. Before visiting Malawi I taught in schools in Ghana, studied modules on international education, read countless journal articles and have written various essays on the development of education. I thought I was pretty clued up on education in an African context but my experiences in Malawi have given me something more; something more valuable than any amount of studying could have given me – an inside perspective of the reality on the ground – and this has forced me to re-evaluate my own perception of education in the developing world.
For 6 weeks I have become a part of the reality of the education system in Dedza. I have spoken to various stakeholders, which has given me an insight into numerous perspectives on current issues and challenges, especially in relation to the girl child in Malawi. I have witnessed first-hand the challenges of the primary education system, from policy-related challenges at national level to structural challenges at district level, to direct challenges concerning the school environment and socio-cultural challenges deeply rooted within a child’s community.
From researching and analysing national policy, I have found that only limited policy exists in relation to gender issues in education and the knowledge of what does exist is extremely varied at lower levels of the system, for example, policies were often unknown to school-level actors, such as school staff and members of school community groups (PTAs, School Management Committees and Mother Groups).
From working in the District Education Office, I have seen that, despite the existence of a comprehensive structure of roles and responsibilities, challenges remain. Within the district, there are several allocated Focal Point Officers for various education issues, such as gender, health and HIV/AIDs. There is an office dedicated to the collection and analysis of school data concerning a range of indicators, such as enrolment, retention and dropout rates. There is a passionate and hardworking Coordinating Primary Education Advisor who manages a network of Primary Education Advisors, who are responsible for working directly with schools across every zone within Dedza. However, a major challenge faced by all relates to transport. Dedza is a large district and travelling in Malawi is expensive and therefore limited. This results in problems reaching some schools, which subsequently impacts on the effectiveness of communication flows, training, and monitoring and evaluation.
At school-level, I have witnessed the serious overcrowding in classes, the overwhelming lack of resources and facilities, the constant demand for additional qualified teachers and the impact of poverty which resonates into the school environment. All being factors which significantly impact on the enrolment and retention of pupils, as well as the overall quality of teaching and learning.
Finally, I have learned about socio-cultural aspects of Malawian lifestyle which can dictate the likelihood of a child accessing education, and to which girls are often more vulnerable – the cultural traditions and practices of different ethnic groups, local attitudes and perceptions regarding the importance of education and, once again, the impact and influence of poverty, especially in rural areas.
Through having the opportunity to interview many different people across the different levels of the education system, I have gained an insight into local perspectives on education and the associated challenges. Not only have I learned a wealth of information concerning girls’ education, I have been forced to challenge my own perceptions and have begun to question the way I have viewed education in the developing world. I have realised the challenges that exist in relation to girls’ education are complex, multi-dimensional and interrelated. From experiencing the reality of these challenges, I have realised the scope of the problems. It is impossible to view the topic of girls’ education in isolation as it is part of a wider system and a wider network of challenges. In order to begin to tackle these challenges, the entire system must be considered where interventions act at every level.
So what is the solution?
In my opinion, the answer lies within the problem. It is about working with what already exists and making positive changes which will result in long-term improvements. It’s working with national level stakeholders to revise and strengthen existing policies and create new policies which correspond to the reality of the challenges being faced on the ground. It’s working with district staff to strengthen existing structures in order to build capacity and improve communication across the district. It’s working with individual schools to devise strategies of how to implement policy in order to tackle both national and school-specific challenges. It’s working with school communities to raise awareness of both the existing challenges and approaches to tackling them. It’s about working with the girls themselves, allowing them the opportunity to voice their concerns about education and to discuss approaches for overcoming them. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, it’s about the coordinated action at every level of the system, working together to improve the quality of girls’ education.
My experiences throughout my trip have changed my perceptions and perspective on education in an African context, but it has not changed my passion to improve the quality of education for children and I am already looking forward to an opportunity to revisit Malawi.
Link Community Development
For general information about Link’s work in Scotland and Africa please visit www.lcdinternational.org
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