Scotland has a historic friendship with Malawi, dating back more than 150 years to the travels of Dr David Livingstone. Today, there are more than 1,000 civic links between the two countries, creating a genuine partnership.

Education is at the heart of a formal cooperation agreement signed between Scotland and Malawi in 2005. The Turing Trust is one of more than 400 organisations working between the two countries to help strengthen education provision. There are also more than 230 Scottish schools that have partnerships with schools in Malawi.

The education system in Malawi comprises eight years of primary school followed by four years of secondary school. Tertiary education largely consists of four year undergraduate courses as well as a limited number of postgraduate courses.

Malawi has yet to achieve universal primary education. For pupils to progress in primary school they must pass exams at the end of each year and 25% of primary pupils repeat the same grade every year. There is a primary completion rate of around 30% and a secondary enrolment rate of around 15%. Children from lower socio-economic brackets living in rural areas are the most likely not to be attending school. Tertiary education enrolment in Malawi is arguably the lowest in the world with only 1% enrolment.

With around 50% of the population now under 18, there is significant pressures on the education system in Malawi. Education spending is 7% of GDP, which is higher than many African countries. The majority of government spending is on secondary and tertiary education.

There is a widespread recognition that education in Malawi needs to be reviewed and, in 2010, the Malawian Government commissioned a review of Malawi’s 1962 Education Act – educational legislation created before Malawi’s independence. Malawi’s new Education Act was introduced in 2013, updating educational law to recognise the societal and national changes which had occurred in Malawi during the period of the nation’s independence.

Education is seen predominantly as a method of nation-building which also aims to train Malawians to a
level which will allow them to develop the skills required to compete in the contemporary global job market. The Act aims to promote an education system in the country which provides equity and access to quality education for all Malawians. This new legislation comes alongside increasing calls from
both local and international stakeholders to diversify approaches to teaching, learning and curriculum development in the country.

A large number of these calls regard the importance of incorporating new technologies and producing IT-literate learners in Malawi, something which remains difficult given the conditions, and resources available, in the education system.

Colin Reilly is a trustee of the Scotland Malawi Partnership, the national network coordinating Scotland’s civic links with Malawi. @ScotlandMalawi