The National Planning Commission (NPC) has said the country made significant strides in educational attainment since independence, but the current state of education and skills development has a lot of room for improvement.
NPC director general Thomas Munthali, whose institution is mandated to formulate the medium and long-term development plans for the country and oversee their implementation, said this at the aunch of the ICPD25 -- Road to Nairobi, held at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) Bunda Campus on August 15 under the theme 'Improving Human Capital through quality Education'.
"In Malawi's new wealth creation agenda, quality education that develops the youth into productive citizens with the skills to generate their own wealth and that of the country will be critical," Munthali said.
Munthali said the current education system prescribes 12 years for basic education (8 for primary school and 4 for secondary school).
However, among adults 25 years and older, the mean years of education attainment, which has been slowly improving, was only 4.4 years in 2015 with males (5 years) having a clear advantage over females (3.8 years).
"Over the next couple of decades, education attainment is however expected to improve significantly given the current much higher enrolment rates than for previous generations. This is especially so for primary school participation where 94% percent of primary school-age children were attending school at that level in 2015/16.," he said.
However, Munthali observed that many children of secondary school age were not enrolled at that level in the same year. The net attendance ratio for Malawi in 2015/16 was estimated at only 18% and 17% for males and females respectively.
"This is due to a combination of factors including late starts at primary level, high rates of repetition, and most important of all, a high number of drop-outs at primary school level meaning many young Malawians do not get a secondary school education.
"The survival rate best illustrates the magnitude of school dropout. In 2014, the education statistics from the Education Management Information System paints a worrisome picture for the country. Only 64.5 of the cohort that had enrolled in Standard 1 in 2010 had survived to reach Standard 5 and only less than one out of every three pupils who had enrolled in Standard 1 in 2007 had reached Standard 8 in 2014.
"Moreover, while the percentage of girls who survive to reach Standard 5 is just 1 percent lower than boys, the difference in the proportion of the girls' cohort surviving to the last class of primary school is much lower than the boys (28% to 35%).
"In the same year, only 36 percent of the children who completed primary school transitioned to secondary school. More and more children dropout out of school at successive grades and few Malawian children reach secondary school, let alone graduate from secondary school or attain tertiary training."
Munthali said low enrollment rates, especially at secondary and tertiary levels low quality of education: Although participation has steadily increased at all levels, the quality of education received is not at the expected levels.
"Participation rates are only comparable to the global and regional best performers at the primary school level where the free primary school programme has been in place for the last two decades. School transition rates to secondary school and enrollment rates at secondary and higher levels are low.
"The UNFPA (2016) notes that the Gross Tertiary Enrollment rate in Malawi for both males and females is only one percent. Enrollment rates for early childhood education are also low, despite its importance to the foundational learning that has a critical bearing on future learning outcomes."
On equity, Munthali says school participation and education attainment in Malawi is also marked by disparities on key dimensions such as gender, place of residence and household wealth.
"In particular, females, rural residents and individuals from poor households find themselves at a disadvantage and this hampers their ability to be productive members of the society.
"For example, the secondary school net attendance ratio in 2015/16 was 41% for urban children compared to only 14% for rural children. Another example is the 40% of girls from the wealthiest households attending secondary school compared to a paltry 4% among girls from the poorest households."
Munthali furthers clarifies that the problem of low quality of education is a major challenge for Malawi to address even as it improves school participation rates.
"The primary school participation rates might be high due to the free primary education policy, but the policy came with a load of challenges that has undermined the quality of education.
"The large number of children in school have not been matched by the needed investments to accommodate them, including adequate resources for infrastructure and learning materials and adequate staffing of trained teachers."
Education statistics show that in 2014 there were an overwhelming 896,110 repeaters and 186,285 dropouts at primary school level, while there were 16,744 repeaters and 17,608 dropouts at secondary school level.
"These are numbers partly reflect the education quality that leads to inefficiency through unnecessary repetitions and to school drop-outs. Furthermore, primary school completion rate was only 52 per cent and the transition rate from primary to secondary school was only 36 per cent.
"In addition to unsatisfactory education quality, a related issue is the inadequate skills being learned by students to prepare them for the job-market. This has led to the mismatch of skills and qualifications," the commission boss said.
Analysis carried out on young workers in Malawi found that majority are under-educated for the work they do, implying that the level of qualification and/or education is lower than is required to perform the job adequately.
The share of young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) provides a broad measure of the untapped potential of young people who could contribute to national development.
The International Labour Organisation argues that young people in this group deserve attention since they are neither improving their future employability through investments in skills nor gaining experience through employment.
About one out of every 5 Malawian youth aged 15-24 are neither in an institution learning nor in employment. The Malawi Labour Force Survey 2013 recorded a NEET rate of 21.7% (23% for females and 20.1% for males) for those in the ages 15-24 and a NEET rate of 16.5% (18.8% for females and 13.8% for males) for those in 15-34 age.
It's even huge disparity if comparing urban and rural which is 38% and 19% respectively for the 15-24 age group.
In conclusion, Munthali says paying attention to retention and quality beyond enrolment will be key while ensuring that the skills being obtained match with the market requirements.
"Special attention needs to be given to girls, rural areas and poor households if Malawi is to fully harness the demographic dividend that its youth present," he said.