A summary by Jemima Lonsdale

Primary school education has long been recognised as a primary factor in reducing poverty (Chimombi, 2009:298). Indicators show that education helps advance economic and agricultural productivity for developing countries, along with improving health and reductions in fertility, infant mortality and morbidity rates (Kadzamira and Rose, 2003:501). In 2016, the World Bank recorded that 51.5% of Malawi’s population lived in poverty, an increase from the year before (World Bank, 2020). Poverty is a response to low productivity in agriculture, and limited opportunities for non-farm activities (ibid.), all problems where education can easily be the solution.

Consequently, Free Primary Education (FPE) in Malawi was first introduced in 1994, under pressure following the first multi-party elections and the newly elected government (ibid., 503). By providing free education to primary schools, the government anticipated an increase in access to education, an elimination of inequalities in participation, and an overall understanding of the importance of education (ibid.). Enrolment in primary education has been fantastic since the introduction of FPE, with a 50% rise in the first year it was introduced (Kadzimira and Rose, 2003:506). However, free education to all is an incredibly large task to take on, even more so by one of the lowest income states in the world (World Bank, 2020).

Despite the attention education has gained worldwide in aiding development, Malawi is included as one of the many countries which has struggled to maintain good quality education (Chimombo, 2009:298). The government relies heavily on outside donor finances, and resources which have been shifted from other sectors in the country (Kadzimira and Rose, 2003:504). Furthermore, even though FPE is set to include educational materials such as exercise books and writing provisions, the country often fails to implement this due to the lack of funds available (ibid., 507). If we target Malawi’s figures, at the time of Kadzimira and Rose’s article analysing education in 2003 – nearly 10 years after the introduction of free primary education (FPE) in the state – Malawi’s GDP per capita had remained relatively unchanged (2003:502). Finally, Malawi’s aim in the reduction of inequalities in participation to education for all has continued to have setbacks in regard to girls’ access to education (Chimombo, 2009:302).

One major restraint to Malawi’s FRE programme, is the exclusion of additional education materials family need in order to send their children to school. As a result, many lack the adequate clothing and school supplies essential to the children’s attendance (Chimombo, 2009:303). Notwithstanding the fact that the FPE programme was introduced specifically targeting the rural areas of Malawi, as 80% of Malawi’s population is rural (Munthali, 2004:49). These areas are significantly lower in school attendance that the urban areas (Chimombo, 2009: 306), and are often have the most disadvantage from the policy. As these schools are located in poorer areas, often the quality of schooling is inadequate due to issues including, insufficient teachers and teaching materials, poor sanitation, poor teaching, and insufficient classrooms (cited, Al-Samarrai and Zaman, 2006:8).

As for the inequalities in girl’s attendance for schools, this can largely be due to the role of girls in the household, and the lack of policy set to aid girls going to school (Munthali, 2004). Girls are often set with the role of household chores, and helping parents (ibid., 49). Despite initiatives such as, Girls Attainment in Basic Education and Literacy programme (GABLE) which have assisted in providing access for girls, drop-out rates remain high (Chimombo, 2009:300).

Fortunately, Classrooms for Malawi are in a position of knowledge to assist in these setbacks in FPE. By developing a relationship with the Ministry of Education in Malawi, and building local relationships with parents, local leaders and authorities, and teachers, the charity can develop comprehensive plans to aid in some of these challenges to education.

To enable us to keep working towards our goal of providing sustainable, safe access to education for the children of Malawi, we rely upon external support. Find out how you can support our work by donating to Malawi, or discover our range of fundraising and volunteering in Malawi opportunities. We also have helpful resources available with information on our Charity Corporate Partnerships and our Charity School Partnerships, both of which provide invaluable support for our cause.

To find out more about our projects past and present, contact us today.


Al-Smarrai, S and Zaman, H (2006) ‘Abolishing school fees in Malawi: the impact on education access and equity’. HTTP: https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/130/1/MPRA_paper_130.pdf (accessed, 20/12/20).

Chimombo, J (2009) ‘Changing Pattern of Access to basic education in Malawi: a story of a mixed bag?’ in Comparative Education 45:2 Special Issue (37): Access to Education in Sub-Saharan Africa: 297-312

Kadzamira, E and Rose, P (2003) ‘Can free primary education meet the needs of the poor?: evidence from Malawi?’ in International Journal of Education Development 23: 501-516

Munthali, J (2004) ‘The Education of Girls in Malawi Access and Retention’. HTTP:
http://www.scotedreview.org.uk/media/microsites/scottish-educational-review/documents/271.pdf (accessed, 20/12/20)

World Bank (2020) ‘The World Bank in Malawi’. HTTP: https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/malawi/overview#:~:text=Economic%20Overview&text=Real%20gross%20domestic%20product%20(GDP,on%20business%20activity%20and%20investment. (accessed, 22/12/20).