Malawi is a rich country in resources but poor in living conditions for the majority of the people (ranking 171 out of 187 on the UNDP Development Index). The educational system is very inadequate for the population of 15 million, 50% of whom are under the age of 18.
We are building Loyola Jesuit Secondary School in Kasungu in an area of Malawi that has a very significant deficit in good educational opportunities available to young women and men.
Recent Government of Malawi figures for Kasungu District demonstrate in a stark fashion this deficit. Of 12,000 pupils who entered the Standard Eight examination, only 6000 passed the exam. Of these, only 3000 were actually placed in secondary schools. Thus, only 25% of Standard Eight pupils are able to go on for secondary education.
But it is important to note the character of the three types of 48 secondary schools currently available in the Kasungu District. One is a private and very expensive National Secondary School, Kamuzu Academy (NSS). There are two conventional District Secondary Schools (DSS), which draw pupils for boarding from across the country. And there are 45 Community Day Secondary Schools (CDSS), which are very poorly equipped: most have no electricity, no running water, no libraries, no science labs. Most are staffed by teachers untrained for secondary school positions.
Of the young people who do complete Standard Eight in Kasungu District and head for secondary education, up to 80% end up in the CDSS. Of these, 60% drop out by the time they reach Form Four, and of the remaining 40% only 53% actually complete Form Four successfully. Of these 53%, less than 20%, go on for some form of tertiary education.
The figures for girls are of lower proportions because of the situations which prevail in the Kasungu District.
The CDSS are found mostly in country-side close to villages or some larger concentrations of people. Pupils attending these schools come each day directly from their homes – thus reducing costs of boarding fees for their parents and/or guardians.
But there is a negative influence on the academic performance of the pupils, especially of the girls. Upon returning from school there are multiple domestic chores to be done, and a learning environment is difficult without electricity and quiet spaces. Going and coming from school often exposes girls to sexual abuse. And many girls are married young and never complete studies at a CDSS.
It is clear that there is in the Kasungu District a strong need for an educational institution such as Loyola Jesuit Secondary School. It will be a real contribution to what the Malawian Government has called a basic human right: the right to secondary education, especially for girls.
Unlike Malawi’s capital of Lilongwe, Kasungu has relatively few secondary schools. By building a high quality secondary school in Kasungu the Jesuits are going where the need is greatest to provide what they call an “option for the poor.” The school will be grant-aided, meaning the government will pay teachers’ salaries and provide other resources, making school fees much lower than those of a private school. And 25% of spaces at the school will be reserved for local students from poor families in Kasungu. Along with the out of town students, these local students will board instead of living at home with their families. This will free students – especially girls – from domestic duties and home life challenges that often impede educational success.
In addition to simply educating, the school’s approach is aimed at supporting development in Malawi over the long term. As gender equity is a critical issue at this time in Malawi’s development, the school is aiming for 50-50 enrolment of boys and girls. The construction of the school will provide significant employment opportunities for local workers, and school students and staff will both be required to provide some service to the community, such as tutoring and teacher enrichment programs at local primary schools. But most importantly, the school’s overall vision is to ensure that all of its graduates are “persons for others” – that is graduates of “conscience, competence, compassion, and commitment” who are ready to transform their country and lead it toward a brighter future.