Education under a tree, the Malawi situation

“A substandard education will always result in a substandard nation.” ― Aubrey Priest

If teachers, teaching, learners, learning, core text books and decent classrooms come into your mind when the words school and education come into perspective; then you are not alone. You are like most of the people who think that having undergone different political dispensations; and having a different number of leaders who are good at political rhetoric then we should be able to provide all our primary schools with at least the basic necessities needed for teaching and learning.

Teaching pupils under a tree which is used as their class

Teaching pupils under a tree which is used as their class

Theoretically, in the twenty first century, the concept of school embraces the aforementioned elements on top of other necessities like desks and chairs for every child, notebooks, chalks and chalkboards and other essential teaching and learning resources. Furthermore, the accepted wisdom is that there is supposed to be personal attention of each learner from the teachers. And mostly learning is supposed to take place at all levels of education with the whole ministry responsible for such in place.

Practically the above postulation is mostly a wishful thinking of most rural school going children and dropouts. Mostly what takes place is contrary to what many expect. To most of the learners in the typical rural areas things like text books, notebooks, desks and chairs and four walls of a classroom are but a luxury they long to see as part of their learning process.

Even to most teachers of rural primary schools, teaching is tough as they have to do without the basic teaching and learning resources such as textbooks. A teacher’s desk is even a thing that will distract the attention of many learners as they have never seen one. A teacher’s house in the rural setting is mostly a nightmare which leaks when it is raining and falls short of basic security standards.

We cannot just sit and pretend that all is rosy for the rural child’s education. We are not looking for very sophisticated education like their counterpart in designated schools. What we are looking for is at least a basic education with all basic teaching and learning facilities and resources available and not the sub standard education taking place currently. We seem to have rationalized the substandard education under a tree where most of the rural child’s early years of education are taking place. Not that it is out of school authorities’ choice; but they are forced by circumstances and their eagerness to see the child learn in the absence of enough basic education facilities. Not that the child cannot learn under a tree, but education under the tree is proving to be chaotic to qualify for quality foundational education which is being advocated—if not just a lip service. Is this the kind of education that will help build our nation?

Under the trees learners come properly bathed and clean but they go home dirty with the dust as if they have been to a certain manual work in the mines. Learning under a tree is like being exposed to a double edged sword. When it rains learning process is disturbed big time and the child is forced to go home without any learning at all because there is no roof and walls to shield them from the harsh weather conditions. When the oxcart is passing by, all the learning is distracted because the walls which could shield them from the petty distractions are invisible. When the winds are harsh learning is halted for the child to seek refuge. Education is a farce under a tree.

Under the tree, the number of learners is too huge to be handled and taught by a single teacher who mostly end their days very tired and dejected. Where the classrooms are available, they are in dilapidated form and that learners are bundled like bags of bonya posing which is detrimental to their health. Most learners do not have a privilege to know a text book because education authorities think that text books can wait but not their hefty allowances. While this is the case, authorities seems not to care at all. Under the tree, the salary delayed teacher would rather spend time gossiping with their friends as to when their salary will be deposited in their bank accounts and leave the child helpless without learning at all.

Even though the children arrive under this tree hoping they will learn how to read and write, and some basic numeracy skills; the day mostly ends only learning folklore or a song because that is the easy thing one can learn in a big group. Learners progresses into another level of an under the tree class even without internalizing the simple concepts of reading and adding figures which makes them to reach even standard four without knowing how to write their names. This is not by design but by default as the teacher cannot pay personal attention to teach each learner personally how to read or write because the learners are too many for personal attention.

Instead the teaching is in form of singing without caring whether the concepts are sinking in the learners or not. While the teacher student ratio is high, and is contributing to miseducating the rural child, other teachers who could alleviate this problem are idle because the authorities do not care whether they are of use or not. If this is not substandard education then what can we call it?

Many people will think this learning environment is normal. It should be noted that it is under this tree that the child’s foundation is distracted and distorted because the basic tenets of meaningful education are violated left right and center due to poor teaching and learning environment. If we do nothing, this will have a profound effect on us all. This poor environment has been rationalized by those in authority to make it normal. But do we really have to let this happening in the twenty first century?


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21 thoughts on “Education under a tree, the Malawi situation”

  1. SENGABAY says:


  2. sonia banda says:

    We are really a retrogressive nation!! It’s sad that as a nation we have always made bad decisions as far as choosing our leaders is concerned. You would think that in the 21st century with all the exposure that we have we would be more extra wise in doing so but alas we go ahead to put the very same people who have been the architects of cash gate. I’m afraid, the results are what we are seeing now. Poverty and more poverty. Who would think that after 50 years of attaining independence our kids would still be learning under the tree? No one, I guess. But here we are, a Nation so obsessed with material things that so many people that are entrusted with the affairs of the state can steal huge sums of money but go scot free. Impunity at its best. I’m just pissed off. ,

  3. anadimba says:

    koma Fabiano akuona zimenezi??????Imspector wako uja akadzabwera tidzampatsa mwala kuti akhalire.

  4. Nyatwa says:

    So the school inspector will be under the mango tree???

  5. Domasi says:

    The more things change the more they stay the same.

  6. Mayo says:

    Banquet budget 400Million
    MEC civic education 400million
    Politicians pocketing 577billion
    JB 24 Billion
    Bingu 92billion known ? More
    As of now cash gate in progress figures to be known once out.
    51 years on , poor infrastructure, no drugs in hospitals and hospitals running like prisons, children from poor backgrounds learning under the tree. Total insane.

  7. Prison Warden says:

    ifenso tinkaphunzira pa mtengo while sitting pa mwala. Ndiye bolanso mafana awawa akuupeza akukhala pa bench. Lero ndiife tili pano tikutayipa pa internet. Palibe nkhani apa

  8. concerned Teacher says:

    Education department is oppressed each and every day in Malawi because of poor minded leaders.don’t think that education will be improved here in Malawi while the govnt is failing to motivate teachers while at the sane time improve the working conditions of teachers especially those in rural primary schools and allcorners of Malawi.



  10. Mulangizi wa APM paza mthibulo says:

    Malawi is failed state. Sad that I had to rally behind Chihana to bring change. Had I known I should not have been party to Malawi’s reverting to pluralism which became a route for thieves Mpinganjira Muluzi and the two Mutharikas.

    MCP was far much better than these mafia criminals, ruling us now.

  11. commentator says:

    Sometimes I wonder. While central government is ultimately accountable, I think that parents, communities and their local governments (district and city councils) should also step up. In fact, control of national education budget should be decentralised to district and community levels. In so doing so, a healthy competition between councils would be created like it is appearing to be the case bbetween Blantyreand Lilongwe city councils (Lilongwe is currently under real pressure). Sluggard councils like Lilongwe city counxil would face discontent and revolt from the communities they represent. Also, if you think learning under a tree is too bad, get into a class with four classes and four teachers, each delivering different lessons concurrently. It is happening in Malawi right now. You cant monitor and reinforce standards from DEM’s office. Parents through PTA and school committees must do their part. It is their school and their children. If they leave the responsibility to someone else, they have themselves to blame.
    This is not theoretical. I saw it in my community when Iwas growing up. Then came multiparty democracy with its freedoms, rejection of self help, political patronage and podium policy decrees. It was a bit of hang over from the order one Michael Mlambala was given in the late 1980s. The rest is history.

  12. kadamanja says:

    All this because of our corrupt leaders in the Government.

  13. Tapona Beza says:

    But the DPP goovernment wants to be building banquet halls when children are learning under the Mango tree. Zamanyazi. priorities upside down

  14. Mavi says:

    These are effects of cashgate

  15. Very the government takes education lightly it will simply create generations of thugs. Uneducated parents are more likely to produce uneducated children. The poor will usually have poor or uneducated children. These are children we mostly see selling mandasi, bananas etc. Very few come out of such doldrums.

  16. mtima wa nyani says:

    ana a mabwana ali ku uk ,us ,china australia mpaka jb kupanga posh ukwati wa niece ku australia under misonkho yathu, ku uk ana a mabwana akukhala mma posh houses , flats misonkho yathu ikulipila- MPINGANJILA – JUST to mention a few. ce gowelo munatiimbatu zizukulu za ku china zonse misonkho yathu, ce civo sevanti wankulu ana zizukulu ose ku US , CANADA A CAPHONDA BWANJI PAMENEPO, MUNGOTIMANGILILA KAYE BINGU NDE CISIMU, ANA ATHU NDI PENSULO YOMWE, TIKATI YUNIFOMU MAVUTO OKHA OKHA . NDISIMENESOTU LELO

  17. zonse ndi nthawi says:

    This is very unfair to Malawians but you could see politicians stealing billions of kwachas and deposite them into foreign countries and these countries prosper from our money very pathetic God have mercy on us subdue us from this bondage

  18. Dambazi says:

    Dzuka Malawi Dzuka nkale lija unayamba kugona. I hope this song will be a catalyst for change!!!!!

  19. jimbo says:

    I first went to Malawi in 1968 and village primary schools then were very primitive – mud and wattle walls or zidina with a grass roof. There was no blackboard or chalk and the children sat on raised mounds of dried mud. It seems that 46 years later the situation has not changed, in fact may have become worse. What is the point of free primary education if children have to be taught under a tree! Also the standard reached by primary school teachers does not equip them to teach in such circumstances. After 51 years of independence it is a disgrace that Malawian school children are suffering such deprivations. The basis of a good educational system starts at primary level. Without a thorough grounding at primary level the rest of education will suffer and the country will not progress and develop. Any country’s greatest asset is its children and their education should be an absolute priority for the government.

  20. chris says:

    Kamuzu ankaesetsa kumanga maxool abwino, sizinazi.

  21. redeemed says:

    Indeed this is a disturbing concept which will negatively impact on the entire nation as a whole. I also remember that during my basic education years it was my dad who taught me a number of things like writing my name and some numeric skills. Frankly I was one of the few fortunate children with an informed father who was dedicated enough to his children’s progress in education. Unfortunate not so many children were and are that privileged to have. One can never emphasize enough the importance of personal attention. May I conclude that an educated nation is a prosperous nation.

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