It is unanimously agreed that behind a successful nation, there is a high standard of education system.
With nature’s diversity, it is also important to appreciate that not all citizens can afford to attain a certain level of rigorous academic qualifications. This is so because people are naturally different in their interests, talents and capacities.
However, the dearth of required skills and capacities in some individuals should not be taken as a scapegoat reason to dilute our education standards.
It is in this vein of reasoning that Lazarus Chakwera and the Tonse Alliance at large promised Malawians to clear the stinking rubbles in all public sectors including the education sector.
Three years down the line, has the Tonse Alliance administration done enough to bring sanity to the dwindling standards in the education sector?
Truth must be told that the Tonse Alliance government has made some strides towards the amelioration of education standards in Malawi.
Notable developments in the education sector under Chakwera regime
The recent verdict by the High Court to convict Tuweh Gadama for running an illegal university, academically called a diploma mill, is a good step towards cracking down on rampant academic fraud in the country.
Secondly, for the past three years, there has never been an exam leakage by the Malawi National Examination Board (MANEB). It is our hope that this status quo will be sustained for a prolonged period of time to ensure that students pass examinations on merit.
Thirdly, for the past three years, Malawi has registered a steady increase of student intake in our public universities. This has increased student access to university education in Malawi.
Fourthly, the controversial quota system that was being used to select students into the public universities has been partially abolished although there is gross uncertainty that some districts will have more advantaged university graduates than others in the long run.
Fifthly, Chakwera’s government has continued to erect tangible infrastructures in many academic institutions such as Mzuzu University library, hostels and laboratories.
Sixthly, the unbundling of the University of Malawi into various public universities has enabled many Malawians to access university education.
Seventhly, the construction of the abandoned Mombera University has seen the light of the day under President Chakwera’s regime. I am reliably informed that there is substantial evidence that Mombera University is currently taking shape.
Weaknesses of Chakwera’s regime in the education sector
Despite the aforementioned positives in the education sector, Chakwera regime has registered a litany of weaknesses and negatives that need urgent attention.
First, there has been an unprecedented proliferation of fake academic qualifications especially by notable politicians.
Unfortunately, the Tonse Alliance government has been instrumental in promoting these fake academic degrees by recruiting holders of questionable qualifications into public positions. Such people include former Inspector of Malawi Police Service, George Kainja; current Minister of Homeland Security, Ken Zikhale; and Chief Executive Officer of the Malawi Revenue Authority, Henry Kachaje just to mention a few.
Second, with 44% Kwacha devaluation, school fees at all levels have been lunatically raised to the extent that some underprivileged students have dropped out of school due to non-payment of fees.
Third, the increase in student intake in public universities does not tally with job availability in the market. As a result, many graduates remain jobless.
Fourth, illiteracy rate in Malawi still remains high. Unfortunately, there are no deliberate government policies to address this quandary. Primary school dropouts and teen-age pregnancies are still grave concerns to the society.
Fifth, inaccessibility of loans, grants and bursaries has widened an unequal access to education to Malawians. It appears that education has become a privilege to the rich people in Malawi.
Sixth, our public universities are ranked low on the international scene due to largely low research output. Unfortunately, the government has not invested in active research in the public universities. In fact, research in some universities is a great forex earner.
Seventh, there is a communication disconnect between the research institutions and the community at large. I recall one ardent citizen challenged any Professor of Agriculture to utilize Lake Malawi fresh water for irrigation. Another wondered why Chakwera government is undergoing economic turmoil when Malawi is endowed with a litany of professors in economics. I can go on and on giving such thought-provoking scenarios.
Eighth, does the increase of student intake in the public universities correspond with the teaching and learning resources? Has the government taken an initiative to vet qualifications of all employees at all levels in the education sector?
Ninth, despite the efforts of the government to train its officers, brain drain remains a rocky issue. What measures have been put in place to retain the scarce intellectuals in the academia?
Lastly but not least, the Tonse Alliance government has not shown a serious political will to develop technical skills in community technical colleges contrary to what was advocated by the previous regime. No wonder we see increasing joblessness among our youth.
A lot needs to be done by the current regime to boost the dilapidated education standards in the country starting from the primary school level up to the university level.
It is imperative that the primary school education be made compulsory to circumvent the high illiteracy levels in Malawi. Government is urged to remove all the accessory education expenses so that primary school education is entirely free.
The project of constructing a secondary school in each constituency with the courtesy of American government must be expeditiously completed by the current regime. This will ensure that secondary school education is accessible to all Malawian citizens.
Also the Government can dispense loans, bursaries and grants to the needy students at both secondary school ad university level.
All education institutions that do not meet the required standards as vetted by the National Council for Higher Education must be closed.
The Malawi Electoral Commission must be empowered by the current regime to send all certificates of candidates to NCHE and Malawi National Examination Board (MANEB) for verification. Those candidates who do not pass the test should be disqualified. This will ensure that the citizens are accorded an opportunity to vote for candidates who take the quality of education seriously.
Lastly but not least, the school curriculum at all levels must be completely overhauled so that it is in tandem with the dynamic needs of the industry and employers.