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Analysis of a complex *policy domain: Access to secondary education in Malawi

Samson L. W Macjessie-Mbewe, University of Massachusetts Amherst


As in other developing countries, students' access to secondary education in Malawi has been a growing problem. Yet secondary education is crucial for human resource development. That is, the way people are allocated into the educational ladder directly influences human capacity building. This study analyzed how policies constrain the transition of rural primary school students to secondary school. The study answered two major questions: what do standard eight (grade eight) repetition, selection, and community day secondary school policies mean to teachers, students and parents? And what is the relationship between standard eight repetition, knowledge of the policies, and students' aspirations for secondary education? These questions were explored through a concurrent mixed methods design. Using purposeful sampling, data were collected through interviews, focus group discussions, questionnaire, and document review. The results suggest that secondary school selection at standard eight is problematic and that participants showed ignorance of the policies guiding the selection process. Consequently, they behaved contrary to the policies' demands by encouraging students who are not selected to repeat, hence affecting their access to secondary education. Assessing repetition and selection policies, participants felt the policies are not beneficial because students' repetition does not necessarily result from the students' own problems. In addition, implementation of the policies was found to be negatively affected by failure to track repeaters in the education system. It was also found that policy communication to rural schools is not effective and there is lack of grassroots stakeholder participation in the policy formation process. As a result, participants felt powerless to influence policy change. Because of the many problems in rural areas, participants felt rural schools should have special policies to facilitate students' access to secondary education. On the conversion of Distance Education Centers to Community Day Secondary Schools (CDSSs), participants felt the conversion did not solve pre-existing problems and has decreased students' access to secondary education. CDSSs still offer low quality education and the communities are not empowered to run them. Due to problems in CDSSs and rural areas, participants requested the government to help their children attend better conventional schools with boarding facilities, qualified teachers, and adequate resources. The study ends with policy recommendations.

Subject Area

School administration

Recommended Citation

Macjessie-Mbewe, Samson L. W, "Analysis of a complex *policy domain: Access to secondary education in Malawi" (2004). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3136755.