RISE Working Paper 19/031 - An Analysis of the Political Economy of Schooling in Rural Malawi: Interactions among Parents, Teachers, Students, Chiefs and Primary Education Advisors

This study provides a rare ground-level picture of the interactions around schooling among parents, teachers, district-level brokers, as well as village chiefs in rural Malawi. Our primary objective is to provide insight into the everyday dynamics of village life surrounding issues of public primary schools and schooling in rural Malawi. Without understanding these dynamics, planning for systemic reform would be futile.

In the office of the head teacher in one of the schools we visited, a chart on the wall displayed the Pass/Fail data for the school for the previous year. Of 112 students in Standard 2 who took the end of term test, 86 passed and 26 failed, needing to repeat the grade. For Standard 1, 108 passed and 61 failed. In Standard 3, 135 passed, while 51 failed. For Standard 7, only 65 students took the test, of whom 15 failed. Of the 37 students who sat for the School Leaving Certificate Examination at the end of their eighth year at school, which determines entry to secondary school, only 9 passed. Of these, none qualified for the elite National or Boarding secondary schools.

We know of no effective formal channels of accountability for such a massive failure-to-learn within the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology MoEST. At the local level, however, there are two gradations of accountability. First, although parents are rarely willing to make demands on behalf of their children’s education, for fear of reprisal from the teachers; when they do protest, it is around issues of improper use of school funds. Second, collaborations among the Head Teacher, members of the School Management Committee, the chiefs in the school’s area and the Ministry’s Primary Education Advisor, have led to the development of a set of emergent accountability practices at local levels that have the potential to improve the quality of children’s schooling. These relations are the primary focus of this research.