School System

Primary Schooling in Malawi

Primary education lasts for eight years (Standards 1 to 8) and covers basic knowledge and skills which allow them to be competent members of society when they grow up.  Primary education covers infant level for the first two years of formal school education, then junior primary level  covers the next three years of education.  Lastly, senior primary covers standards 6 to 8. Pupils who are able to reach standard 8 sit the Primary School Leaving Certificate Examination (PSLCE), which gives them eligibility for entry into secondary school. The PSLCE examinations are jointly set, conducted and marked by the Ministry of Education and the Malawi National Examinations Board (MANEB). Pupils have to pass well and are then selected to attend secondary school education in a government secondary school.

From 1994 primary education has been free but is still not compulsory.  Children attend primary school from the age of six until they are 14, and few will have any preschool education.

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Education Financing

The Malawi government is responsible for the finance of primary schools but donors have a huge role, enabling schools to buy teaching equipment and materials, furniture, together with the actual building of the schools and their maintenance, etc.  The local communities and parents help with this finance, helping with the cost of the school building itself, school transport, uniforms, etc.  More than three quarters of primary schools exist and function due to local community support.  All primary schools are community schools.


Children’s Attitude To Education

Most children love to go to school and are keen to learn.  Their behaviour is good and there is a high pass rate in the Primary School Leaving Certificate Examinations.  Most children pay attention to their teachers but it is very difficult to teach and control a class of over 100 children.  Problems are seen more in standard seven and eight years, due in part to the fact that the children have started school at an older age.  Also, some young girls have to drop out of school due to teenage pregnancies.

There has been a large increase in the number of children going to primary school but this has meant that the quality of education is poorer.  As more children are attending primary school there is a shortage of classrooms, with many children being taught outside under trees in the wind, rain and cold.  There is also a shortage of desks and books, etc. The children have poor living conditions, having no clean water supply and no proper toilets.

The government has made provision for one teacher for every sixty pupils but in many schools the ratio is up to double that number.


Management of Schools

Education divisions have been set up by the government.  These manage small groups of primary schools.  Local school management committees are responsible for the operation of schools and effective learning.  Village schools are sited close to where the children live, so their parents do not worry about their children’s safety when travelling to and from school.


Secondary School Education

Primary education is free in Malawi and ends at Standard 8.  If pupils pass their end of primary examinations and obtain their Primary School Leaving Certificate, they can go onto secondary education.  Students do not often get to choose where they go to secondary school, the government selects their secondary schools according to their exam results.

Children in Malawi repeat the school year if they fail their exams, so although a child could end Standard 8 at the age of 14, having started at age 5, this is not often the case.  In 2013 only 68% of primary school children who sat the Primary School Leaving Certificate exam passed.

Secondary education has to be paid for.  It starts in Form 1 and ends at Form 4.  Some students end secondary school at age 18 if they did not have to retake a school year.  But this is rare.

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Grading System

The MSCE has 9 grades, 1 being the highest and 9 the lowest:

1 = distinction, 2 = distinction, 3 = credit, 4 = credit, 5 = credit, 6 = credit, 7 = pass, 8 = pass & 9 = fail.

To qualify for an MSCE certificate, a student should at least pass English and five other subjects, one of which must be at a credit level.

The top score that a student can receive on their MSCE is a 6, simply meaning that a student scored perfect A’s in six subjects i.e. grades of 1s and 2s which are also required to go to university.

In 2015 the pass rate was 55.2%.


Class Sizes

At present the government’s recommendation for class size is 50, but due to lack of space and teachers, many schools have to put two classes together making a maximum of 100 students.



The teachers are moved around by the government or recommended for posts by the head teacher. The head teacher is able to make recommendations for promotion once a teacher has proved his ability to take on further responsibilities.

Teachers often live in staff accommodation on or near to the school to save on transport and housing costs.  Many schools see building staff accommodation as a priority as teachers do not often come from the local area.