Implementing educational innovations : a study of free primary education in Malawi.
The new democratic government of Malawi introduced free primary education (FPE) in the 1994/95
academic year. This major policy intervention included the removal of tuition and other school fees, and
children were no longer required to wear a uniform to attend school. The main objectives ofFPE were to
increase access to primary education and to eliminate inequalities in participation through reducing the
direct costs, and to improve retention rates and thus reduce illiteracy.
FPE is the most significant educational policy ever introduced in Malawi. Its development invited a
detailed study of how participation has changed, what mechanisms were employed to improve retention
and promotion, and what strategies were used to meet the need for additional human and physical
resources. There are four main concerns which shaped this study:
1) The genesis of the policy- how was the policy initiated and for what reasons?
2) The policy itself- i.e. what did the policy consist of and what did the ministry of education do?
3) What happened after the introduction of FPE and how did enrolment, access and retention change
4) Why did things happen the way they did and what are the reasons which help explain the effect of
Data were collected through grounded case studies of ten schools undertaken in different parts of Malawi.
The literature indicates that judgements on the effectiveness of policy implementation require insights
that can only be obtained from case study work at the local level. Those involved in the development of
policy were interviewed and national level data were also analysed. Systems theory was used to examine
the relationships between system components, between the system and its environment and between one
system and another, and the major concepts of this theory of interdependence, integration and cohesion
were used to analyse and interpret the findings of this thesis. At the macro level, the study also drew on
functionalist theory. In order to examine how educational institutions perceive, manipulate and act within
the structural constraints within which they find themselves, the socio-politico-cultural frameworks
within which, and through which these institutions have shaped schooling under FPE were elaborated.
The analysis has shown that the immediate goal of ensuring universal access to primary education has
been largely achieved. Most children in Malawi have set foot inside a school of some kind. But when the
implementation of FPE policy was examined within the Jomtien aspirations which included improving
educational quality, ensuring greater equity in the distribution of educational resources, and improving
retention and attendance, the thesis concludes that Malawi lacks the administrative and fiscal capacity to
deliver primary education of minimum quality to all. This deficiency leads to system fragmentation and
low cohesion in the implementation process which partly explains the limitations of FPE policy
identified. The study established that schooling problems might have worsened since the introduction of
FPE and that despite increased efforts towards girls education, gender disparities still remain one of the
main problems. Further, the rhetorical association of schooling with economic opportunity is
questionable, at least for those where the demand for schooling is weak and the benefits not apparent. A
simulation modelling costs also indicates that achieving EFA is financially unsustainable in the short and
medium term. The findings provide pointers about what needs to be done or strengthened in order to
ensure a more effective implementation of an ambitious and worthwhile educational policy reform in
Malawi, as well as the lessons that can be learned for the implementation of similar reforms.