From this IPS article we see how school for children is considered a luxury in the country. Writer Claire Ngozo tells us just how few pre-schools there are in the country.
Less than a third of Malawi's children attend pre-school; the others will lag behind their peers for their entire school careers.
For most Malawian children, school only starts at the age of six - or sometimes even later - when they enter primary school. Pre-schools are mainly privately-owned and regarded as a luxury since most families cannot afford to pay the fees.
In Malawi, up to 60 percent of the population lives below the poverty line of $1 a day, according to United Nations statistics, while pre-school fees, for the few Malawians who earn a good income, range from $50 to $800 per term.
Not attending a pre-school means that most of the country’s children miss out on early learning and stimulation, according to the country’s secretary for gender, children and community development, Olive Chikankheni.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) indicates that early childhood development is critical for the formation of intelligence, personality and social behavior. The effects of neglect in these formative years can be cumulative and lasting.
"Most nursery schools are in urban areas and demand very high school fees, which most people cannot afford," confirmed Chikankheni. About 60 percent of Malawi's population live in the country’s rural areas, however, where poverty is rife.
Chikankheni says children who do not attend pre-school find it difficult to socialise with their peers and teachers when they start primary school. "These children take long to adapt to the school environment because they find that they are suddenly surrounded by strangers. As such, they fail to concentrate on their studies," said Chikankheni.
She says such children lag behind in their studies, and some perform below their potential throughout their school-life. 2008 government statistics indicate that not even a third of Malawi's children have access to pre-school education.
Limited access to pre-school is apparent even in urban areas, and within the country’s capital Lilongwe. Small children are seen playing unattended in township and suburb streets during the day instead of being in school. Many families rather spend the little money they have on food and other basic necessities, than on nursery school fees.