Why rural education matters
by Chifuniro Banda
Malawi’s constitution mandates the government to actively promote the welfare and development of Malawians through the progressive adoption and implementation of policies and legislation.
Economic management, rural development, and education are among the 15 measurables of development, and according to the constitution, successful government policies should be reflected in an improved quality of life in rural communities.
Why rural development?
More than half of Malawi’s poor people live in rural areas, while 19.2 percent live in urban areas. The Malawi Poverty Report 2020 put the rural ultra-poverty at 23.6 percent, while urban ultra-poverty is at 3.3 percent.
According to Pathways to Prosperity in Rural Malawi, a book published by the World Bank in 2017, the escalating rural poverty in Malawi is attributed to low agricultural productivity, low and limited opportunities for nonfarm self-employment, and low impacts of safety net programs.
With this, we cannot talk about meaningful national development while ignoring a segment of the population that is both the majority and in desperate need of economic assistance. Sustainable rural development is critical to a country’s economic, social, and environmental viability, including Malawi because poverty is overwhelmingly rural (United Nations).
Low agricultural productivity can be attributed to a reliance on rain and a lack of technological use. On the other hand, safety nets appear ineffective because Malawi’s social programs have low overall budgets in comparison to international standards.
While it is the government’s responsibility to create a favorable economic environment for all citizens, the transition to nonfarm self-employment is also dependent on how citizens are empowered. Rural residents should be able to compete with their urban counterparts in business and employment.
Currently, a higher proportion of nonfarm jobs are in sectors [such as finance, business services, and public administration], which are scarce in rural areas. As a result, it is difficult for a rural person to start a business or engage in meaningful self-employment.
Access to financial services remains limited, owing to factors such as distance from financial institutions, among others. Even the most daring individuals do not reap the desired benefits due to the remoteness of roads.
In the long run, empowering rural youth (tomorrow’s leaders) through quality education is the way to go. It can be formal, entrepreneurial, vocational, or financial literacy education.
Education benefits individuals in terms of employment, earnings, health, and poverty reduction (World Bank). To a country, education drives long-term economic growth, stimulates innovation, strengthens institutions, and promotes social cohesion in societies.
Yet at the moment, most students in rural areas walk long distances to and from schools. The quality of education received falls far short of expectations. Due to infrastructural challenges, there is a high rate of school dropout, particularly among girls.
They engage in farming or related activities to support their parents. The teacher-to-student ratio is high. Those who graduate from secondary school struggle to pay tuition fees.
Again, the Constitution mandates the government to provide adequate resources to the education sector and develop deliberate programs to eliminate illiteracy, among other things. It should ensure that schools, whether public or private, rural or urban, maintain acceptable standards.
This is why the government, non-governmental organizations, and individuals needed to invest heavily in rural youth education. They are not only in the majority, but they also face more challenges than their counterparts, as previously stated.
At the individual level, we need role models and champions who can be awarding rural best-performing students with learning materials and school uniforms, among other things. Alumni groups can help to scale this up. Rural students require motivation and encouragement to attend and remain in school.
Those who make it to secondary school should also be supported.
As a result, we can be optimistic about Malawi becoming an inclusive, wealthy, and self-sufficient nation. Education is a certain way to achieve human capital development, which is enabler number five in Malawi 2063. Investing in a rural child’s education by creating a conducive environment is a worthwhile investment.
When young, I envisioned communities that support and encourage children’s dreams. As a dreamer myself, my greatest aspiration over the years has been to see the dreams of others, especially those from rural areas come true.
Based on this conviction, in 2021, I released an 11-track album titled “Maloto Anga” (simply “my dream”) which beyond music marked the beginning of fostering and conceiving ambitions in young people in rural areas. As a pilot school, Msaza Primary School in T/A Khombedza, Salima, was chosen, and I started supporting the pupil’s education with learning materials and the school with minor renovations. I initially used the money I got from the sales of my album to support the school.
So far, the initiative has built a bridge connecting pupils from nearby villages. With the assistance of Bambino Schools, we have stocked the library. With assistance from Kris Offset and Sons, we have donated hundreds of exercise books, pens, and pencils. We have given out 40+ school uniforms to best performing pupils (primary school level) and almost 10 school uniforms to secondary school students. We have also been covering tuition fees for the top three pupils that made it secondary school (now 9). For this year, we have just paid exam fees for the 3 students that are sitting for the Junior Certificate of Education.
To see their dream (Maloto Awo) coming true remains my dream (Maloto Anga)
*The article was originally published in The Daily Times Newspaper on Wednesday, 30th November 2022.
The author is a Human Resources professional cum musician, who is passionate about human development, and currently runs the Maloto Anga Education Initiative, which targets rural schools. A holder of an MBA (MIM, 2020), PG Dip in Management Studies, and Bs in Social Science (University of Malawi, 2015 and 2010, respectively). He started his education in a rural setting whose learning conditions remain deplorable and believes if there are no interventions in addressing the challenges, no meaningful and equitable development will be achieved.