Despite successes in improving access to primary education, the Malawi education system has struggled to produce high levels of learning. The country has consistently ranked at or near the bottom in regional learning assessments, and an Early Grade Reading Assessment conducted in 2010 showed that 76 percent of Standard 2 learners could not identify any letters. To address the low reading performance, The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) partnered with the Government of Malawi to pilot several projects aimed at improving reading performance. The lessons from these pilot projects led to the development of a National Reading Strategy (NRS) and a National Reading Program (NRP). With support from USAID, the NRP’s goal is to improve the reading skills of all students in Chichewa and English in the first four years of primary school. It does this through reforms to the curriculum, teacher professional development and coaching, development and distribution of teaching and learning materials, continuous assessment and remediation, and targeted support for learners with special needs.
USAID supports the NRP by providing finance and technical assistance through several activities including MERIT: Malawi Early Grade Reading Improvement Activity (MERIT), Yesani Ophunzira (YESA), Strengthening Early Grade Reading in Malawi (SEGREM) and Reading for All Malawi (REFAM). MERIT focuses on teacher professional development and support, YESA on continuous assessment and remediation, REFAM on inclusive education, and SEGREM on materials development.
Since 2016, the NRP has reached over 56,000 teachers and 4.6 million students in all public schools in Malawi. In addition, results from the 2018 Early Grade Reading Assessment shows that the NRP has had some success in improving reading skills of students in Chichewa and English, and especially for those students in the Standard 4.
Implementing successfully at national scale requires that all partners have had to coordinate and collaborate with each other, with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) in the lead. The NRP is led by a Steering Committee, which is jointly chaired by the Principal Secretary of Education, Science, and Technology (SEST) and the Chief of Education at USAID/Malawi. This committee is responsible for setting policy, coordinating the activities of all partners, and ensuring that all education officials act in support of the NRP. This steering committee mechanism increased commitment of government partners and officials.
All partners have also had to implement through local government systems at the central and district levels, and thereby strengthening the capacity of these systems to deliver education services in support of early grade learning. Building commitment and capacity within the Malawi education system are key strategies for supporting Malawi’s Journey to Self-Reliance and empowering the government to take greater responsibility to plan and deliver education services from its own technical and financial resources. This panel includes representatives from the MoEST and NRP implementation partners discussing their roles in supporting the NRP and sharing lessons around their approach, achievements, and challenges as they collaborate to get all children learning. The combined experiences of the different partners will be useful for other projects, organizations, and governments who are looking to make wide-scale change in their education systems.