Illiteracy is one of the many challenges youths, especially in developing African countries like Malawi, face. Fourteen-year-old Thokozani Gwembele of Kasongo village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Mkhumba in Phalombe has been among such youths.
When she reached 11 years of age, she was still illiterate—unable to read and write. When her friends were leaving for school every morning from Monday to Friday, Thokozani had no interest to join them and gulp knowledge in class.
“To me, it was useless to go to school. Nobody bothered to push me to school, so I thought it was normal to stay at home while my agemates stayed in class,” says Thokozani, who is a fourth born in a family of eight children.
Out of her seven siblings, the second born brother is the only one who reached Standard Eight. Yes, they regarded and still regard him as the most educated child in the family.
But Thokozani is now ambitious to go higher with education than her brother. She is now able to read and write. Although she was not eligible to vote because of her age in last year’s tripartite elections, she was able to read different campaign messages on posters which were pasted on trees and walls in her area by politicians who were competing for councillorship, parliamentary and presidential seats.
This has been possible because of Malawi Government’s efforts to empower youths through Complementary Basic Education (CBE), a Ministry of Education programme that provides out-of-school children an opportunity to learn literacy and numeracy skills needed to live as productive and health conscious citizens of Malawi. This is an accelerated learning programme which helps children who have missed out on schooling to catch up with their peers.
CBE coordinator in the Ministry of Education Esnart Chapomba says Government hatched the CBE idea after realising that Malawi was far from achieving the Education Millennium Development Goal of the Universal Primary completion because of the high number of dropouts at primary school level.
“There are many children who dropped out of school while others have not set their feet in a classroom since they were born. It happens that because of age, some of them become shy now to start Standard One. Therefore, CBE programme targets them so that they should learn how to write and read plus other vocational skills,” says Chapomba.
The programme started in 2012 with funding from the German international cooperation agency. The three-year programme was later completely taken over by Malawi Government which has funded the other two years. The programme is being implemented in 10 districts, including Phalombe and Kasungu.
According to the National Education Sector Implementation Plan (NESP 2001-2013), the primary completion rate at the time CBE started was 35 percent and it was estimated that there were 600 000 children of school-going age who were not in school. Chapomba says the Ministry of Education was, therefore, addressing this gap by designing this accelerated informal learning programme.
The learners in CBE are in the age range of nine to 17. The programme is in such a way that work covered in the CBE first year is equivalent to content of standards one and two of the formal primary education system; and second year CBE is equal to what is covered in standards three and four, while third year is at par with standard five content. Completion of third year of CBE can therefore qualify a learner entry into Standard Six of formal school.
The CBE curriculum contains literacy lessons in Chichewa, English and numeracy.
“Through this programme the youths also acquire essential knowledge, skills and values to promote self-reliance, encourage lifelong learning and enable them to participate fully in society and development. The programme offers lessons in agriculture, environment, science, healthy living, citizenship and livelihoods. The aim is that those who cannot proceed to Standard Six because of their age should use the learnt skills to start businesses,” says Chapomba.
Creccom executive director George Jobe says the organisation provides resources for purchasing teaching and learning materials, organises trainings and supervision. Creccom also mobilises communities to support and own the CBE centres in their areas.
The programme is facing one major challenge whereby more learners drop along the way. There is high intake but lower completion rate. In the year 2012, 3 366 learners enrolled in the programme in Phalombe. Although some learners did not reach the end as they embarked on income-generating activities using the acquired skills, others just dropped out resulting in only 590 learners graduating on July 30 this year and they are ready to start Standard Six.
Education activist Benedicto Kondowe says the CBE system is good as it prepares the youth to be productive and reliable citizens. However, he notes some disparities in the programme which he says should be improved for the better. Kondowe bemoans lack of good training and attractives for the youthful volunteers who teach in the CBE learning centres.
“Most of the learning centres have insufficient learning and teaching materials. This does not motivate both the youthful volunteers and the learners,” says Kondowe. n