Addressing the needs of vulnerable girls in Malawi to improve educational outcomes
In Malawi, we are currently working in five communities in two districts of Balaka and Mangochi to improve the educational performance of vulnerable girls and boys in primary schools. The Child Status Index (CSI) assessment we conducted last December in five communities found that the majority of the vulnerable girls and boys were performing poorly in continuous academic assessments. Using an improvement approach to analyse academic performance data and holding discussions with community members and vulnerable girls and boys themselves, the teams identified a number of gaps and issues leading to poor educational outcomes. The teams observed that girls and boys were facing numerous challenges ranging from socio-economic, geographical and cultural factors which contributed to academic performance. Teams identified that vulnerable girl children were less likely to be in school and also less likely to perform well on the continuous assessments due to gender-related issues affecting girls.
Challenges facing vulnerable girls and boys include poor preparation for exams and poor attendance due to: the need to engage in domestic chores and take care of younger siblings, visiting relatives during the exam periods, child labour activities to contribute to household income, and initiation ceremonies interfering with the school calendars.
Girls are more likely to engage in domestic chores, take care of young siblings, and to participate in initiation ceremonies; boys are more likely to be taken out of school to participate in child labour activities. Community improvement teams have started testing changes to improve educational performance of children in primary schools. Since girls’ performance is poorer, the team has identified changes to test which focus specifically on vulnerable girls to close the gap and improve outcomes overall, including forming mothers’ groups, working to prevent child marriage and respond to the needs of married girls, and through female role models.
Community teams have supported the formation of mothers’ groups to follow up on girls and boys in communities to ensure they attend school regularly. Volunteer mothers talk to parents and guardians of the vulnerable children and counsel them on cultural norms in communities contributing to the under-performance of girls in school. Mothers’ groups also share the economic benefits when children complete their primary education, which an emphasis on girls, by highlighting some of the good examples of children who have exceled from the same community. Mothers’ groups are also responsible for linking vulnerable girls that are in need of scholastic materials to other organisations that provide scholastic materials for girls.
Improvement teams are also responding to the high rates of child marriage which are causing higher dropout rates among girls and thwarting improvement efforts within the communities. We are currently working in collaboration with Community Victim Support Units and other relevant stakeholders to prevent child marriages among girls in the communities. The teams have also been involved in nullifying child marriages among young girls and encouraging these girls and their parents to continue their education. Community teams are notified by community members of potential child marriages taking place or about to take place in the communities to intervene and counsel guardians on the child abuse. Girls who have become pregnant are also being encouraged to reenrol in school to continue with education after giving birth.
Community teams have also identified female role models in the communities to conduct talks within primary schools to encourage girls to continue their education. Some communities are also mobilising locally identified youth mentors to help vulnerable children after school hours in subjects that they are having problems to understand.
Our work in Malawi has shown that using a quality improvement approach to identify and address the needs of vulnerable girls and boys and to identify and respond to gender-related gaps works well, and we are already seeing improved educational outcomes among both vulnerable girls and vulnerable boys.