Of institutionalized mediocre education in Malawi

Mediocrity has laid siege on us. Like a leopard which has a firm grip on its prey, mediocrity is haunting us all, regardless of who allowed it to settle amidst us. It has come to us slowly in our dozing state; establishing its roots and become part of our culture which is deep rooted in our veins now. As a country, we have embraced mediocrity as part of our daily endeavors. The worst victim and culprit simultaneously is the education sector where many look up to for solutions which are not forth coming.

Sexuality education

Teaching in Malawi

Education is failing to tame mediocrity that it has vicariously adopted it to be part of its own system. Mediocrity has just been institutionalized for fear of being labeled failures hence reducing our standards in order to suit the standards of the mediocre; in the end we have become the failures we are being afraid to be.

How have we befriended mediocrity? It is not that we don’t teach in our schools, because we teach the way we taught yesterday and fail to relate the content with the reality on the ground. It is not that we don’t have the knowledge, because we do; though we cling to abstract and obsolete knowledge most of the times which will never help us develop our country. It is not that we don’t have the technology, because we can have if our political leaders stop being selfish and start to invest heavily in our education system so that quality and relevance become our priority.

It is not that we do not have books in our libraries, because we have outdated books which are not even enough to cater for the existing demand. More mundanely, caught up as we are in our post-one party fantasies; we simply couldn’t wake up from the slumber and realize that each problem is unique and needs a different approach. We have been forced to lower our standards or embracing no standards to suit the politician’s wish of appeasing the masses.

Furthermore the mediocrity has been adopted not because the industry is not lamenting about the irrelevance and obsoleteness of our curriculum; and the low quality of our university graduates. No. the industry is crying all the time. But the industry has detached itself from the institutions of education in all aspects as one of the stakeholders of education; a thing which has created a knowledge gap of what the industry wants and expect from higher education institutions.

Each and every day the industry keeps on undergoing a metamorphosis a thing our education system fail to cope up with rapidly. This is not because the education sector cannot; it can, but the industry thinks it can absorb the graduates who underwent a chaotic curriculum without adequate and quality teaching and learning resources for hands-on learning and expect the same graduates to be of the caliber the same industry is looking for.

The industry fails to update the education sector of any new development which can be embraced in our curriculum; leaving the education sector to guess all the time. The industry fails to partner our universities in research and development, a thing that makes us all failing to develop new solutions for our existing problems. The detachment of the industry and the education sector is a sure sign of institutionalizing mediocrity.

Broadly speaking, we are content with our model of banking-education concept where a learner is forced to memorize obsolete facts which have no meaning at all; and regurgitate everything during examination for a pass, which translate into nothing in real life situation; and thereafter forget everything they learnt in school. We have just accepted the rising mediocrity as an acceptable price to pay for electing political leaders who have no idea of what it means to invest in quality and relevant education.

The mediocrity is not institutionalized because we do not have quality teachers in our secondary schools; because we do. Only that we are failing to provide enough resources to our schools and we are failing to demand quality teaching from them. This is coupled with the fact that most of the learners we are enrolling have literary failed in standard eight; but they proceed hoping to turn the tables at junior certificate examinations and we seem to allow that as a system.

Even at junior certificate, the trend is to lower the passing mark so that at least one too many should pass. Those who failed are free to enroll in form three with the knowledge of their parents and some school administrations provided they are able to pay school fees. No system is in place to check whether they have J.C. or not. Result is finishing school with or without any national qualification.

We have embraced mediocrity not that there are no classrooms and textbooks in our schools and colleges, because there is. Only that the numbers in classrooms and the available resources do not tally. This makes learning superficial without internalizing the concepts needed and failure to transfer knowledge in real life situations. Result is output which reduces efficiency. This is not that there is no funding. It is there but, funding of education system is problematic. No one seems to care if poor investment yields poor yields. The economics of education seems to be aligned towards saving a lot of money for future solutions resulting from poor investments instead of investing today to curtail the likely future problems.

Institutionalized mediocrity is known with, but not limited to:-

  • When one tries as hard as possible to establish new institutions—which is a welcome development; but tries hard at the same time trying suffocating the existing institutions, systematically by not taking care of them and failure to maintain and manage them both financially and in kind.
  • When a graduate forgets everything he has learnt at the university and even the education is a sure sign of mediocrity.
  • When teaching and learning resources are a luxury in all levels of education and not a necessity because government and all concerned stakeholders are failing to budget for the necessary resources.
  • When teachers are failing to be creative in their jobs because there are no standards on which to work on.
  • When universities are failing to provide solutions for the day to day problems we face as a country; yet we produce graduates purposively trained for the very same problems we are facing
  • When a country is losing billions to appease political cronies and leave a primary school child learning under a tree subjected to so many distractions and coupled with unavailability of text books.
  • When a university student has never seen a test tube or beaker in his science lessons because money meant for that were plundered at Capitol Hill and equally zillions of other cash are feeding the president and his cronies because the student is not in government plans.
  • When a university student knows when they start their programme of study but not as sure as to when they will finish/graduate.

The way forward? We all have to share responsibility. Let us all demand accountability from the state, the industry, the education sector and more importantly from the politicians; because if the education sector fails, we all fail.

*The author Mcdonald Mnelemba is an educator and researcher


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I totally agree to the above column,what a masterpiece.We need talented people like the author who wont just stand and watch our education standards fade like a chewing bubblegum,We are indeed becoming failures we are all afraid of being.Our education standards have detoriated so heavily that its no surprise these days to see a graduate failing to utter/write a simple grammatically sentence,so disgusting,we should all take responsibility and come up with new strategies to clean up the big mess that we are all in for our kings of and queens of tomorrow’s sake.Where on earth does a student gets enrolled… Read more »

I agree with No. 5 (lesta). He sums up this article very well that it is sugar-coating the quota system where we have allowed unqualified teachers to teach our sons and daughters and knowing that they will end up in our universities, not because they deserve it, but because of where they are coming from. I must commend the writer of the article that this is indeed a brilliant piece of writing which is very rich in information.


Indeed, our education system is rotten to the core. For instance, secondary schools have not been provided with the much publicized movable laboratories in readiness for the new curriculum, the ministry of education is busy promoting access to education at the expense of improved quality. School enrolment has swelled without matching with available teaching and learning resources.The ministry of Education has no transparent training plan for teachers. Above all, a large chunk of ministry of education’s budget is wasted on irrelevant external and internal trips by officers at Ministry headquarters, or even divisions.

Phaghlani Vwavwa
The Chief cause of backwardness in Malawi is our own internal fighting. I totally disagree that Malawi is at peace. Peace does not just equal absence of war. Malawi is not at peace with itself and its diversity. Merit is hated if it’s not in your favour, but loved when it is in your favour. This applies to education and jobs. No country can develop with such mediocre thinking. The sad thing is that such mediocre thinking is propagated by people with PHDs. Forget about development in Malawi because she thinks it happens by chance, not by competence and hard… Read more »
My take on this subject is that Malawians as a nation are too inwardly looking and have not recovered from the ‘President-know-it-all’ syndrome. We have a parliament which should be fighting for enactment of laws forcing periodic education policy reviews to improve standards and make education relevant to the country’s needs. Education is expensive and.must be funded in a protected way. Our education curriculum should be alive to respond to changing world trends so that our pupils can adapt ideas into solutions to suit our needs at every turn of society. More importantly our system of learning must change radically… Read more »

Only a fool will say this is not a brilliant piece of information.

Thitherward 'wendo
I agree that the content taught and the examples used should be both local and up-to-date. However, I believe that the basis of our curricula should be the development of creative thinking skills. With such skills, we can all produce solutions to the problems presented by the changing needs of our society, industry, economy, etc. It is a mistake to think that we are born with a fixed level of intelligence. We are born with intelligence potential. Because little is done in our education system to develop our potential, few of us achieve it. It is the responsibility of every… Read more »
Don’t sugarcoat quota system,to me,education has gone south due to the following reasons,quota system,lack of resources,use of wrong curricula,in that order of magnitude,be straight,and for education to improve in Malawi,start by admitting qualified and deserving students right in form one up to universities,how do you expect a graduate teacher who can’t express themself in English teach the same to a student or pupil?sometimes lets do things which can be accepted world over please,don’t do things just because its in Malawi,with the rising of incompetent teachers I don’t think we will overcome this problem,you don’t admit someone to university or college… Read more »

As citizens of this impoverished country we should take full responsibility for the sorry state of affairs we have found ourselves in. We vote for people who are intellectually challenged, who barely went to institutions of higher learning, leaders who bought their Degrees and expect them to be high level performers. It’s not going to happen! We ( Malawians) really have to change our mind set……..we have our work cut out for us we need to vote wisely next election cycle………Lord help us!

Mwanafyale Mukulumba
Kids learning under the tree in the year 2015 taught by unqualified teachers and expect Malawi to compete with other countries in the modern times.All the money has been squandered by the greedy cashgate thieves at capital hill and being defended by some immoral lawyers from Unima.Education standards went to dogs during Muluzis time who never valued education,instead he preferred somebody to be an illiterate vendor and sell some wares.Kamuzu despite being a dictator,he had ambitions for his country for quality education.Its a shame these places like bottlestores,dilapidated houses and other places not worthy and conducive for learning being turned… Read more »

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