Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Education - returning to the merit system

Today the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology announced (albeit through its facebook page) that admission to public Secondary schools will return to the merit system. The following quote comes from the Official Malawi Government Online facebook page.
"The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology would like to inform all members of the general public that with effect from the 2014/15 academic year which starts in September 2014, admission of students in public secondary schools based on applications has been abolished. The Ministry has reverted to the merit system of selecting students into public secondary schools to improve the efficiency of the system and more importantly to ensure high quality of education and fairness to candidates. Following this policy shift, the Ministry would like to urge all candidates who may not make it to public secondary schools through selection by merit to still pursue their education through the Open and Distance Learning mode available in most of our public secondary schools. In the same vein, the Ministry wishes to warn all headteachers and teachers of public secondary schools to desist from illegally admitting students in public secondary schools including their own wards as that action will attract appropriate disciplinary action".
What does this say about education in Malawi? Whilst the return to the merit system may lead to a slight improvement in the quality of secondary school education, the consequences of the merit system means many children will not progress beyond primary school. Further, this policy shift doesn't really address the inadequacies of the primary and secondary education sector in Malawi, rather it alleviates the symptoms without addressing the cause.

The merit system, will favour the brightest students; those who were able to thrive at primary school and will ultimately leave those in need of more support without the opportunity to continue with their education. The proposal to access secondary education via the Open and Distance Learning mode will create a further divide between secondary age students. The system is based on the Primary School Leaving Certificate examinations and the pass rate is ultimately set by the Government.

There are several disadvantages of the  merit system - it relies on exam results. Not everyone is good at (or does well in) exams.They are essentially a test of memory and not of understanding. My point? quite simply exams should not be the only markers of educational attainment, especially not at primary school and the merit system doesn't allow for this. Surely the Government of Malawi has to realise that the only way to improve the education system is to address the inadequacies at primary and secondary schools. Whilst primary schools remain under-resourced, under-staffed and classrooms are overcrowded then it will be impossible for the education attainment levels in Malawi to improve.

The future of Malawi will one day be in the hands of today's children - only by equipping them with skills and knowledge through education will Malawi prosper.


Monday, 14 July 2014

Getting to the end of the PhD...

Sorry I've been rather quiet on the blogging front the last couple of months. After the activities of the Malawian election, I've been fully focused on revising my PhD Thesis - it's due for submission soon!

I've become rather revision engrossed recently, which is a good thing as I'm pushing my way on with it - there is almost an end in sight! It's hard to believe it's almost 4 years since I started my PhD and it's 5 years since I did my MSc - time goes really quickly! So much has changed since I did my undergraduate at GCU!

The process of researching and writing a thesis, is long, complex and often isolating; you eventually become the expert on your thesis subject.  Everyone works differently and at different paces; making comparing your progress against that of your colleagues complex and confusing. I currently share an office with a group of PhD students all at similar stages, writing-up and in the final few months of their PhD. 

Image courtesy of @cybeastie
I think @cybeastie, has a really good approach to her PhD writing-up; her mantra of "progress not perfection" sums up the process of writing-up quite well. After all the thesis will never be perfect. The process of making progress is a personal journey; I like having a plan, including deadlines to work to. I found it was easier to make progress and worry less about perfection once I had some reassurance from my supervisors, that what I was writing was the makings of a PhD. 

I've been trying to make the most of the nice weather that Edinburgh has had over the last few days - working from home and reinventing an open window and windowsill deep enough to use as a work space!  The photo does show me making the best of the weekends sunshine and dangling my feet out the window.  I'm glad I did as now it's raining again!

So whilst I continue to make progress with my thesis revisions, I would like if the sun could replace this rain.