Link Community Development

Improving the quality of education in Africa

Malawi School Solar Network (MSSN)

The Malawi School Solar Network provided solar power, laptops with internet connection and IT training to 15 primary schools in the Dedza district of Malawi. Teachers at these isolated, rural schools used to spend hours travelling to deliver reports or access support from the District Education Office. Now up to date information is shared by email. Teachers use the internet to find teaching aids to improve the learning experience in their classrooms, and receive advice and professional development from their local Primary Education Advisor. School Solar Committees comprised of community members take responsibility for maintaining the equipment, help parents and school governing bodies to access electronic information about the school, and run income generating activities to raise cash for needy learners and ongoing costs. Learners joined computer clubs and gained basic IT skills which will be essential success in the modern world. This project is generating enthusiasm for school and improving learning outcomes, and over time we anticipate this will lead to more children completing a full cycle of primary schooling.

Funder: Department for International Development (DFID)

Total funding: £193,101

Date: April 2013 – March 2015

The Challenge

Malawi is ranked 171 out of 187 countries in the Human Development Index (UNDP 2011), which provides a composite measure of three basic dimensions of human development: health, education and income.  In economic terms, according to the Malawi Statistical Yearbook 2010, 52.4% of Malawians are defined as living below the poverty line, and 55.9% of those are living in rural areas.

In Dedza district, according to the Yearbook, 54.6% of the population are designated as poor, and 20.9% as ultra-poor.

In terms of educational attainment, only 36% (UIS 2009) of learners in Malawi survive to the final grade of primary school, rural drop-out stands at 8.9% (MoEST 2004) and repeaters at 20% (UIS 2010). Rural schools lack qualified teachers, district support and resources to improve teaching and learning quality and genuine school improvement.  Poor monitoring capabilities and limited capacity to access educational data at local level results in ineffective and poorly informed school and district planning, impacting on pupil performance. Poor performance at primary level means there are low transition rates to secondary school, contributing to rural poverty. According to the Government of Malawi 2011 EMIS report, Dedza district repetition rates in lower primary average out at 25% and drop-outs at 16%, indicating an education system which is not meeting the needs of the population.  

Malawi has only 716,400 internet users out of a population of 15,879,252 (Internet World Stats, 2012), just 4.5% of the population. The vast majority of these users are based in urban areas. There has been as yet very little internet penetration into the rural areas of the country.

For many schools in Malawi, contact with education officials is limited and where it does happen it can require school staff to travel to district education offices thereby reducing their time in school; it is estimated that headteachers spend as much as 25% of their time away from school completing administration tasks. Equally, district education staff rely on travelling to individual schools to collect important statistics to inform their interventions within schools, which takes up significant amounts of time.

Project Aims

The MSSN project will contribute to poverty reduction by improving the quality of formal and informal education and by giving community members access to the internet and ICT skills. Specifically the project will impact on the following target groups:

-        Head/teachers, will have improved management capacity via better performance monitoring using up-to-date and accurate school data allowing more targeted instructional leadership; and improved communication between schools and the district office via an Information Management System. This will progress the education quality provided to learners, thus improving retention and completion rates, and leading to poverty reduction for successful learners; and also reduce travel time and costs as admin information can be exchanged online (LCDI estimates head teachers spend up to 25% of time away from school on admin). 

-       Teachers, will develop a wider knowledge base, including teaching methodologies and ICT knowledge; through access to CPD opportunities and ODL developed by the MoEST and MIE. This will attract, motivate and retain teachers in rural areas and provide better quality education to learners.

-       District, will be better able to monitor and support their schools because of access to more accurate and timely information about school performance. The performance indicating data will allow the district to better target their limited resources to support priority needs, CPD and more effectively implement national initiatives.

-       Learners, will benefit from improved teaching and learning and improved teacher motivation.  

-       Community school governance bodies (FTNs, SMCs, PTAs, MGs, VDCs) will be able to better target their support, analyse the latest school data and exchange good practice, The MSSN project will enable district and school staff to communicate online, immediately limiting the need for travelling during school hours. This will mean headteachers can spend more of their time focusing on the management needs within their schools, directing and supporting their teaching teams. District education staff will be able to better focus their support to schools through having access to accurate and up-to-date data, such as enrolment, attendance, drop out  and attainment levels.

Project Activities

1.       Install Solar Connect (solar-power, laptops and internet connection) in 15 rural primary schools

2.       Provide training for (head) teachers and Primary Education Advisors to use the IT equipment and care for the solar equipment

3.       Install templates for monthly school reports which are required by the District Education Office

4.       Support schools to establish School Solar Network committees to manage the use of the equipment and to run income-generating activities to cover ongoing costs

5.       Support schools to establish computer clubs for learners to experience IT equipment

6.       Provide ongoing capacity-building and mentoring to teachers, headteachers and primary education advisors to make the most of the Solar Connect.

Headline Achievements

1. Electronic exchange of information about school performance increases the amount of time (head) teachers and Primary Education Advisors spend on school improvement, rather than delivering reports.

All 15 target schools complete the required templates on their computers and email them to the Primary Education Advisors. Headteachers at 12 of the target schools specifically mention an improvement in communication with the Primary Education Advisor as a benefit of the project. The PEA for Bembeke Zone states “Travel time has been reduced and I spend much of my time supervising and  advising teachers and head teachers” The Chimbiya PEA says “I have noticed a reduction of work load as typing of other documents is done in schools and reduction of travel time to the District Education Office.” The Chimwangalu PEA also notes a “reduction in the amount of travel time leaving me with enough time for advisory visits”.

2. Skills acquisition by teachers at remote rural schools.

This has been achieved through training delivered by Primary Education Advisors using the IT equipment, and through teachers independently accessing information about teaching skill or lesson content using the internet. PEAs ran a total of 83 training sessions in the 15 target schools using the equipment to demonstrate, use templates, search the internet or play DVDs.  Topics included computer and internet skills, subject knowledge, teaching skills, management skills, financial management, and record keeping. All teachers report using the equipment at least once a week to access information on the internet to improve their lessons. Teachers are downloading e-books which are being used by those who want to upgrade their qualifications. The Chimwangalu PEA says: “Most of my teachers have developed an ambition of upgrading their MSCE [secondary school qualifications] because they do use the computer equipment for browsing information.”

3. Improvement in teacher motivation and teacher retention.

The Headteacher of Kaimvi Primary School noted “This provides motivation for teachers to stay at school even after knocking off”. The Headteachers of Kanticho and Maonde Primary Schools highlight that their teachers are better motivated and that the project has improved teacher retention. Teacher turnover was identified as one of the main challenges facing rural schools at the start of the project. During the lifetime of the project all teachers were retained in their posts and a number of schools were able to recruit new teachers.

The Primary Education Advisor for Chimwangalu zone said: “Most of my teachers have developed an ambition of upgrading their MSCE [secondary school qualifications] because they do use the computer equipment for browsing information… Kaimvi  school used to have less than three girls in standard eight but the past two years, Kaimvi has had more than 8 girls in standard 8. The pass rate has also increased.”

The Headteacher for Maonde Primary School said: “This project has increased the motivation of my teachers and as a result there is better retention of teachers at this school. There has been an increase in the pass rate for learners.”

Watch this video about Solar Connect.

Read more about the impact and results of the MSSN project.