Malawi school fees - why it matters
Primary school in Malawi is "free". In good times, the children are given porridge when they get to school: it's a great incentive. The parents make a very small contribution to help pay for a watchman who is employed to take care of the food supplies. They also have to buy exercise books, pens and uniforms, which the school cannot always supply. This makes it unaffordable for some, with the result that many drop out of school. An exercise book costs about 6p. A pen is 8p. A uniform is £3. For ways in which MSP has been helping children in primary school, see Back to School, and .
There is a fee for secondary school, and it is unaffordable for many. By UK standards, the sums involved are tiny.
It is an honour to be chosen for secondary school. There aren't enough places for all the children who pass out of primary school, and only those with the very best exam results are able to go forward. In Mpasa district, about a quarter of those selected for secondary school in 2017 either could not pay, or struggled to do so. The headmaster described to me children going to school clutching a handful of dirty 20 kwacha notes (2p), which they have raised by doing odd jobs, and counting them out to the bursar while parents stand helplessly by. Others simply do not go to school to claim their places. There are also examination fees for those in Form 4 (the highest grade) about to take their Malawi School Certificate of Education exams. The children skip school to earn money to pay for their exams - with disastrous effects on their examination results.
Local chiefs have been so worried about this that when I visited in January 2017 and announced I would pay secondary school fees for children for the next two terms, the chiefs cheered and clapped.
Some of the 80 children whose school fees were paid by MSP in January and April 2017
In September 2018 the government announced the abolition of secondary school fees. There are still fees to pay to cover the hire of locally engaged staff (the guards, groundsmen and night watchmen who look after the school premises), but the teaching elements of the fees have been abolished. This has reduced the fee from around £5.75 per term to £2. It is such a small amount, but crucial to enable these youngsters to remain in school. We have committed to continue paying this, and to supporting the children by paying their examination fees too.