Education of girls in Malawi

15 million girls of primary-school age will never enter a classroom. Half of them live on the African continent. This lack of access to education, especially amongst the poorest and amongst girls is clear, also in Malawi.

According to UNICEF 121 million children in the world are still out of primary and lower secondary school. 250 million children cannot read or write. The situation is far from what we wished for even though there has been great progress in the last decade.

Girls are excluded

Of all regions, Africa south of the Sahara has the highest rates of educational exclusion. For every five children between the ages of 6 and 11, more than one is out of school. According to UIS (Unesco Institute for Statistics) data, almost 60 percent of youth between the ages of 15 and 17 are not attending school.

In many parts of the world the first victims of this exclusion are girls. According to UNESCO’s estimations, 130 million girls between the ages of 6 and 17 are out of school.

The situation in Malawi

Malawi is one of the most stable countries in Africa, but still one of the least developed in the world. A total of 85 percent of those living in poverty live in rural areas, and a higher percentage are women.

As data from UNICEF shows, in Malawi over 10 percent of school-aged children do not attend primary school. Even if in 1994 the school fees, at least for the primary school, were abolished, only 26 percent of children completed the entire primary school cycle. Of these children that do complete primary school, only 16 percent are girls.

Given that 74 percent of pupils do not complete a full course of primary schooling (with the highest dropout rate for girls), Malawi didn’t achieve the MDG (Millennium Development Goal) number 2 on attaining universal primary education by 2015.

An equal number of girls and boys in schools has been achieved for primary education, but because of the high dropout rates of girls in primary education, there is no equal number of boys and girls starting secondary education. This means that Malawi also didn’t achieve the MDG number 3 of eliminating gender disparities in education.

Challenges facing girls in the rural areas

The main obstacles for children to attend school can be found in the long distances between the villages and the school, in the high secondary school fees, in the poor quality of education and of the school themselves.

For girls, more difficulties are added to these barriers: increases of HIV/AIDS, which has made a significant demand on the labour of the girl-child at the household level, increases in early marriages and pregnancies; poor physical and sanitary conditions; increases in gender-based violence in rural areas; and sexual harassment of girls by male teachers and fellow students

There is evidence to show how educating girls impacts and benefits all sectors of development. Specifically, we can see that investing in girls’ education:

  • has reduced under-five child mortality and child mortality by half
  • has a significant positive effect on output, with the rate of return being a 5 to 12 percent increase in economic growth for each additional year of schooling in the average population. <<
  • has played an important role in increasing growth directly and through its impact on increased life expectancy and lower fertility rates.

More education for female farmers, relative to male farmers, increases farm yields by as much as 22%. This is especially important in Malawi because 85% of the population lives in rural areas.

Female education “is the single most important social and economic factor associated with a reduction in vulnerability to natural disasters”.

Giving women and girls access to education is a world priority for the good of all and we should always remember that we are not speaking about a luxury but a basic human need that we should guarantee to everyone.

“Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.”

 Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

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