Back to School

Incentive scheme to continue

We have decided to continue the incentive scheme - mentioned at the end of this page - for 2018, but on a modified basis. I will agree the details when I visit Malawi at the end of April. The most important thing is to keep the flow of exercise books and pens going.

The Primary School System

It is so hard for these bright young children to access a decent education. In January 2017 I called on the headteachers of the three primary schools in Afrogarden's area and on the district Primary Education Adviser (the PEA). The PEA told me that her priorities were to provide more classroom space, to set up an incentive scheme to encourage the children to attend punctually and regularly, and to provide furniture. The headteachers were also concerned about space. Across the three schools in Afrogarden's area there are over 4,200 primary school children, and just 24 classrooms. But they had a range of other worries too: insufficient funds to provide exercise books and pens; too many children from families with no history of education who were not encouraged by their parents to go to school, or in some cases actually discouraged from doing so; no facilities for girls past the age of puberty, who often stayed away from school each month finding it just too difficult to manage there; irregular attendance and unpunctuality (there is no power in many areas, no clocks or watches, and no tradition of punctual attendance); and too few teaching resources.

The children in school in Mpasa are referred to as "learners", and with good reason. Many are no longer children. Their education has been so patchy, that they are still trying to complete the 8 years of primary education at the age of 18, or sometimes more. These learners often give up completely -and it is easy to understand why.

Headteachers, chiefs and the PEA discussing education in January 2017

Children Back to School

In 2016 Afrogarden introduced a "Children Back to School" project, with the intention of encouraging children of primary school age who were not in school, to go back. With the help of volunteers, "children" who have not completed their primary education are interviewed - with their parents if possible - and are invited to attend a 'back to school' meeting. There they are addressed by local teachers, by students who have done well at school who explain why they have found education helpful and rewarding, and a local amateur drama group acts out an improvised scene on the subject of going to school - maybe focusing on the problems caused by child marriage, or parents encouraging children to leave school so they can work. The scenes are vivid commentaries on social customs and immensely empowering for the children.

The local drama group in action
Children and parents at a Back to School meeting
Afrogarden have so far conducted meetings in 8 villages. Those children who agree to go back to school are given a school bag, pens and exercise books. If they go back and stay there for a month, they get a uniform too. Afrogarden has itself funded children from 6 villages: around 80% of those who have returned are still back at school 6 months later. In January 2017 MSP funded 100 children from another 2 villages, and will pay for the uniforms of those who have stayed.   It costs just 6p to provide an exercise book, 8p for a pen, and £3 for a uniform. For £5, a child can be equipped to go back to school.

The Incentive Scheme

In response to a plea from the PEA, MSP is also funding, on an experimental basis, an incentive programme for primary school children. For the remainder of 2017, the top 10 children in each class who attend school regularly and punctually will be rewarded with an exercise book and pen each. Those who do well in their exams will receive a maths set. We hope in this way to help spread resources, as well as encourage the children to study.