NKHATABAY, MALAWI — Malawi is struggling to provide the free primary education to children it promised 25 years ago. Teachers say they were not prepared for the massive rise in student enrollment, leaving schools without adequate infrastructure, teachers, and supplies. But now charities have stepped in to address the problem.

Dinah Malenga is the only fourth grade teacher at Mazembe Primary School in Malawi’s Nkhatabay district.

She teaches 112 students, almost double the recommended 60 per teacher.

A shortage of textbooks in Malawi primary schools forces teachers to divide students into groups that share one book. (L. Masina/VOA)

She says “It’s too hectic for me as a teacher. Since, there are so many students they don’t easily grasp what I am teaching them. And some don’t even finish assignments.  Tracking those who do not finish their assignments is another tough job to do.”  

Malenga is among teachers struggling with the impact of Malawi’s policy on free primary education.

The government introduced the policy in 1994 to curb illiteracy but did not provide adequate funding.

Teachers say the resulting influx of students has reduced the quality of education.

Leonard Manda is the head teacher at Mazembe Primary School.

These children at Mazembe Primary School used to sit on the floor before Ripple Africa donated desks for them. (L. Masina/VOA)

“This is a situation with free primary education because we have so many learners (students) [who are] are registering but we don’t have enough teachers to teach those learners in primary schools,” Manda said.

Western charities like Ripple Africa have stepped in to help address the resource challenges.

The charity is supporting six primary schools in Nkhatabay, with donated desks and classroom and teacher housing construction.

Dan Shawa is in charge of education projects at Ripple Africa.

Not an easy task, students sitting on a floor at Mazembe Primary School as a result of poor infrastructure perpetuated by a boom in primary school enrollment. (L. Masina/VOA)

“Our aim behind this is to make sure that this community here, the children should do well up to university level, so that they should be self-sustainable other than relying to Ripple Africa or relying on someone’s help because education is the key to everything.”

The charity is also paying salaries for trainee primary school teachers who are not on the government payroll, like Isaac Mangani Banda.

“At least my life has been changed. So, I am able to support my family.  Also, the salary that I get is little, but the little I get is enough to support my family.”

Ripple Africa says it plans to raise more funds to double the number of Malawi primary schools it is supporting and further ease the burden on teachers.