Tizgowere Msiska outlines how the REHAAT Initiative is advancing SDGs on the local level in Mzuzu City, Malawi.
Since Malawi adopted its decentralisation policy in 1998, the country has experienced both positive turnarounds and retardations in social and economic development. The decentralisation policy seeks to promote accountability and good governance to help reduce poverty and mobilise the masses for socio-economic development at the local level.
This necessitated the empowerment of local councils and public institutions to mobilise resources and use them for development activities in their respective communities. This entails the need for strong collaboration between the local government and non-state actors such as Revolution Human Aid and Transparency Initiative (REHAAT) who works in the areas of Education, Human Rights and Governance, ICT and Skills Development, Environment and Climate Change, and Food Security and Livelihoods. By tackling challenges in these areas, the organisation systematically contributes towards the attainment of SDGs 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, and 13.
Putting SDG 4 at the Centre
The attainment of all SDGs depends on the literacy levels among the citizenry. It takes an educated society to fully understand the aspirations of the global and national development agenda. Therefore, the organisation prioritises the goal of quality education in Mzimba North/Mzuzu City.
Malawi has made some efforts to align its education policy and system to align with the aspirations in SDG 4. However, resources in the education sector are limited and national budgets have been allocating a greater percentage of education funding to administration purposes as compared to school infrastructure and teaching and learning materials.
The results of this is evident for example at Mageza Primary School in Kaviwale Zone, which is lacking very basic facilities: the school does not have enough classrooms so that some learners learn on the bare ground – even when it rains. All blocks are temporary structures that cannot accommodate beyond 40 learners, forcing the school to operate on triple shifts. The school does not have desks or chairs, and the head teacher’s office, which doubles as staff room, is in a dilapidated state. When it rains, it leaks heavily. With the cold weather that characterises Mzuzu City, some learners cannot stand learning in the cold, eventually missing classes. Even schools that are considered to be better off than others may lack school libraries, adequate classrooms, and qualified teachers. This affects the performance of learners at all levels and has emphasised that action needs to be taken at the local level.
What is the Role of Community Structures?
An assessment conducted by Mzuzu District Education Network (DEN) and REHAAT focussed on primary education in Mzimba North. It revealed the gaps in primary education in the district and the crucial role of community structures such as parent-teacher associations (PTAs), mother groups, and School Management Committees (SMC) in advancing quality education.
They were the leading forces in mobilising communities’ resources to build classrooms, support auxiliary teachers, build accommodation for teachers, support the school feeding programme, and many more initiatives. For example, St. Austin Primary School in Enkondhlweni Zone has constructed a classroom block trough initiative of the community structures; a mothers’ group at Ethuleni School in Euthini Zone has managed to mobilise resources for poor learners in general and girls in particular; and the communities surrounding Chibale School in Emoneni Zone raised funds to support volunteer teachers.
From the assessment’s findings, REHAAT and other organisations under Mzuzu DEN can document such successful community structure strategies. The report has also clearly detected which schools do not get adequate support from their communities. REHAAT is in the process of mobilising resources to transfer successful strategies to other communities, seeking to strengthen community structures’ ability in resource mobilisation through a variety of measures such as: income generating activities, training in social accountability, a Resource Mobilisation Handbook for community school structures, and building the capacity to support vulnerable and disadvantaged learners.
How Can We Enable Access to Secondary Education?
Malawi has very limited space in public secondary schools, which prevents a lot of qualified learners to transition from primary to secondary school. For instance, in 2020, only 38 per cent of students who passed the necessary examinations found a place at public secondary schools. Eventually, this becomes the end of the road for learners from poor backgrounds. We advocate for more secondary schools in both urban and rural areas, for poor but eligible learners who cannot afford private schools.
To make secondary education more inclusive, we need to develop alternative ways of offering quality secondary education. At REHAAT, we are currently designing a programme called Alternative Education for Disadvantaged Population (AEDP), which seeks to utilise primary schools’ premises for secondary learners after the end of primary lessons. Government, partners, and local structures should support and adopt such alternative ways of delivering secondary education.
REHAAT’s “Literacy and Numeracy Program”
To complement government efforts in education policy on a local level, REHAAT pursues innovative but cost-effective approaches of improving literacy and numeracy skills among primary school learners. For example, we introduced a project called Literacy and Numeracy (L&N) Program (dubbed “reading clubs”) which targets learners that are struggling to follow lessons in the classroom. This programme responds to the discovery that some learners are taught more effectively by their fellow learners, especially those with learning difficulties.
The L&N Program, whose implementation has been piloted at Masasa Primary School in Mzuzu, establishes reading clubs for classes 5 to 8. Due to limited resources of the self-funded and volunteer-based project, the pilot was conducted for one academic year only and did not allow us to analyse the project’s impact in detail. However, it was clear that learners were happy with the project. There were suggestions to include issues of drug and substance abuse as well as children’s rights in the programme so that when learners meet, they also have time to discuss social and health issues affecting them and their future.
Benefits of Advancing SDG 4 on a Local Level
Applying uniform interventions has proved to disadvantage schools in already disadvantaged areas. Resulting challenges can best be handled by people who are familiar with the problems. This means that community structures should be leading actors in solving educational challenges. Furthermore, by advancing SDG 4 on a local level, communities and schools will gain a better understanding of the challenges they face and can formulate best solutions in their respective schools. This way, collective action at the local level will support Malawi in advancing SDG 4.