Link Community Development

Improving the quality of education in Africa

Increasing Participatory Governance in Education in Malawi

Children at Malawi primary school

Building on our successful School Review and School Improvement Planning work, this practice-based enquiry will help us to understand why some community members are excluded from the school improvement cycle, and how we can help these marginalised groups to play a more active role in their schools.  



Funder: Open Society Foundation

Total funding: $144,940

Project dates: September 2016 - March 2018

The challenge

To make lasting improvements in the quality of education, schools need to involve the whole community to bring about change. But too many parents and community members don’t have a voice, and are unaware of the standard of education that schools should provide, how their school is performing against this standard, who is responsible for ensuring schools meet this standard, and what to do if the standard is not met. As a result, parents and community members often feel disempowered and unable to make changes to improve their school.   

According to UNESCO, marginalization involves “mutually reinforcing interactions between poverty, gender, ethnicity, geographic location, disability, race, language and other factors that create cycles of disadvantage in education[1]

Project Aims

Using our strong connections to schools and communities in Dedza, we will investigate why particular groups within the community are marginalised from the school improvement process and work to remove the barriers to participation. For example, interpreters can help to include people who don’t speak Chichewa; making meeting venues easily accessible can make people with disabilities feel welcome; and nominating a spokesperson can help young people to express their views.

Rather than creating a parallel system, we will work to widen participation within existing structures, improving accountability and transparency in school improvement. We will enable every community member to understand the National Education Standards, which define the minimum requirements for every school in Malawi. We will support all sections of the community to contribute to School Review, a process which assesses how schools are performing against the Standards. We will ensure everyone has a voice in School Improvement Planning, so the priorities for school improvement reflect the views of the whole community.  

Project Activities

We will design, test and refine processes and tools to:

  • Raise awareness at school and community level of Malawi’s National Education Standards, so schools are held accountable for meeting and exceeding the minimum requirements.
  • Build the capacity of Headteachers to access and use data to improve their school, making school performance transparent.
  • Facilitate greater and more meaningful participation of marginalised children, parents and community members in School Review and School Improvement Planning, empowering people to influence decision-makers and effect change.

These interventions will be applied to all 236 primary schools in Dedza district. As a practice-based enquiry, learning is at the heart of this project. By involving community and government partners at every stage, and documenting and reflecting on the impact of the interventions, the project will develop confidence in a more inclusive system which can be applied across the country.

Baseline Report

The research conducted at the start of the project has given us some invaluable insights into the barriers faced by marginalised stakeholders and helped us to design interventions to overcome these barriers.

Read the full baseline report.


[1] UNESCO, Reaching the marginalized, Education for All, Global Monitoring Report 2010


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