Packed classrooms: a reality for educational planners in Malawi

26 February 2020


Students and their teacher in a primary school classroom in Nkhotakota, Malawi.

In Malawi, large classes are a common sight. “The average ratio is one teacher to 73 learners,” says Rabson Madi, an educational planner from the Ministry of Education in Malawi, “while a big class can have as many as 120 learners for one teacher.”

Madi, who works on monitoring and evaluation in the Department of Teacher Education and Development, believes education plans must consider this reality so that they can achieve their intended results. 

Challenges like this led him to pursue IIEP-UNESCO’s Advanced Training Programme in educational planning and management in Paris, France. We sat down with Madi to learn more about his experience, and how he can apply his new skills to building a stronger future for all children and youth in Malawi.

On why there is a high student-teacher ratio in Malawi:

There are a number of reasons. One of them is we have an inadequate number of qualified teachers, which is caused by a shortage of trained teachers. In our national education sector plan, which is under review now, the target is that we have one teacher to 60 students. To get to one to 60, we are supposed to produce 9,000 primary teachers. However, we are not producing the number of required teachers. The other issue is that there are limitations in terms of the creation of teaching posts, which is dependent on the government’s budget. Lastly, these figures – such as the one to 120 student-teacher ratio - is sometimes because there are not enough classrooms.

On what it means to be an educational planner:

A planner is supposed to be a visionary. A planner is someone who is able to identify themselves in the situation of others. At the same time, a planner must have technical skills so that they can actualize their dreams. As a planner, you do not just look at education as an isolated sector. A planner looks at education as an entity for all. An educational planner must also understand the political sphere. A planner must be accountable and transparent. Planning is an ongoing process. You may plan today, and find tomorrow that you have to go back. It is an iterative, ongoing process. A planner is not supposed to give up.

On his experience at IIEP:

The advantage of IIEP is that I have not just been equipped in terms of the technical skills. I have also been given a new lens. I have realized that in order for us to plan, you really need the participation of all the relevant stakeholders and this has been illustrated throughout the training here. Planning is not just a document. Plans are about people. Many plans fail because of lack of thorough understanding of the context. They may look flowery on paper but when it comes to implementation, you find that the plan does not always yield the expected results.

On how his career and outlook has changed since training at IIEP:

My career has changed significantly since my return from Paris. For instance, as soon as I came back, I have been part of the core team that is responsible for the development of the new education sector plan called the National Education Sector Investment Plan (NESIP, 2020-2030). I have also been tasked by my directorate of Teacher Education and Development to lead the process of developing the first ever strategic plan of the directorate. Further, I am a member of a team that is developing the primary teacher appraisal management system. All in all, I have been given the privilege to lead in different activities of the directorate and other institutions. My knowledge, skills, and the experience gained from IIEP have been instrumental. I am truly a distinguished member of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, thanks to IIEP.