Supporting increased educational access for vulnerable pupils in rural Malawi

Type Report
Title Supporting increased educational access for vulnerable pupils in rural Malawi
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2011
Page numbers 0-0
Against the context of underlying poverty, HIV/AIDS and an over-stretched and under-resourced education system, many children in Malawi have reduced and sporadic access to schooling and are at risk of permanent dropout. Evidence from the sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) region suggests that a disproportionate number of marginalised children are those orphaned and made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS. International goals for Education for All (EFA) will not be realised unless education systems can reach out to and retain these children. More needs to be done in schools to address their specific needs and support their access to learning. Acknowledging this, there is a growing call for conventional primary schooling to become more open, flexible and inclusive.
This report introduces a model of education that uses open, distance and flexible learning (ODFL) to strengthen and support access to learning within conventional schools. The model utilises low-tech ODFL strategies - including self-study guides, peer group learning, a buddy system, and ‘school-in-a-box’ - to enrich and complement formal schooling. It also promotes an enabling environment within schools through increasing school and community capacity in identifying, monitoring and providing pastoral care for vulnerable pupils, as well as promoting practices to support greater inclusion. This report presents findings from a three-year collaborative research study working within the SADC region (the SOFIE project), which developed and trialled this model. In Malawi the model was trialled in schools in two rural districts – Phalombe and Mzimba South – targeting Standard 6 pupils. The research used an embedded experimental design to collect and analyse both quantitative and qualitative data, following a mixed methods approach.
This report reviews the success and challenges of implementing the SOFIE model, drawing on perspectives from research participants to explain process and impact data. A key finding was that the intervention had a significant positive impact on dropout rates, both amongst vulnerable pupils identified as at-risk and targeted for support and in Standard 6 classes overall. There was also evidence of slight intervention effects on at-risk pupils’ test scores in Mathematics. Although there was no significant impact on the likelihood of pupils’ being promoted to the next grade, findings highlight additional qualitative educational and psychosocial benefits for targeted ‘at-risk’ pupils. For example, peer support and guided collaborative learning in after-school clubs – led by youth volunteers – appear to have resulted greater confidence and participation in class, as well as building supportive social networks and reducing discrimination from fellow pupils. Several schools made changes to school-level policies that were identified as excluding vulnerable pupils, for example, through reducing school costs and addressing disciplinary practices that excluded pupils from learning. Sustaining community support was a key challenge, particularly in Phalombe, although the use of youth volunteers proved to be a successful strategy, with good working relationships established between teachers and volunteers.

Related studies