Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hard choices over food versus education in Malawi

This is the first article that I found on BBC Africa that is about Malawi, the country I am currently residing in. Unfortunately it is not a happy one. It is kind of interesting that I found it in the hardest weeks I have had in Malawi so far, with all the fuel shortages and electricity going out for hours at a time.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. People live here from harvest to harvest and if the growing season did not have enough rains, the hunger that year is imminent. The Malawi government has made a new “food security” program which provides subsidized fertilizer and seeds to the poor farmers. It has had success in reducing hunger. But with the government’s increase of “food security” funds, schools are still terribly underfunded. It is uncommon in a typical Primary (grades 1 to 6) school to have up to 200 students to one teacher.

Chilamba school, located in the central region of Malawi, is made of mud walls and a thatched roof. It used to have 2 teachers for 500 students but now a small grant from Britain’s Department of International Development (DFID) increased the teacher number. In a small classroom one can see about 100 six-year old students sitting in neat rows, three to a bench, raising their hands to answer the questions. It is not easy to learn in the class with over 100 students and most of the students have to walk a long way and most of the time on an empty stomach. The school does not have funds to feed the children so they are hungry till the end of the day. But with all of these problems this school is still a cheerful place.

The roots of the teacher shortage problem are very deep. Former school inspector Lexon Ndalama says that some of the teachers are not well qualified to teach themselves and the reason for that is that they were taught in the overcrowded classrooms. The solution to this problem is to train more teachers. The new addition to the teacher training facilities is an Emanuel Teacher Training College founded by European church groups. But even with the new colleges opening up “the need for new teachers far outstrips the supply.” Malawi loses most of its teachers to HIV/AIDS and it has been reported that more teachers die due to this disease than the teacher training schools produce.

Education is not a top priority for the Malawi government. There are more pressing needs like keeping ever present hunger at bay. But education can yield solutions to some of the problems Malawi faces. Don Taylor, Education adviser for DFID in Malawi, says that education “enables subsistence farmers to produce more food. It helps reduce the very high birth rates which are a feature of most poor countries. And those things, in turn, lead to better educational opportunities.”

Life in Malawi is not easy for an average person. Even after giving your garden the best care possible the harvest will still depend on the amount of rains; too little and the crop will not grow, too much and it will rot. Some families simply cannot afford to send their children to school to begin with. Although this article talks about the government not having enough money for the education of its growing population, the President was still able to “scrape” enough to buy himself a nice jet! His purchase plunged the country into a Foreign Exchange deficit which in turn led to petroleum and diesel shortages. The best thing the Malawi government can do for Malawi, is to stop the ongoing problem of corruption and focus on the younger generation that will hopefully raise this country from poverty.

1 comment:

  1. Even though we are a country of plenty, if our government gets any more corrupt we could face the same situation you describe. But I agree that education is every thing if you have (enough to eat first)then education could turn the whole situation of poverty around. Thanks for posting