Building an Education System That Supports Learning in the Early Grades in Malawi: Findings from an Institutional Capacity Assessment

The Government of Malawi, through the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) with financial and technical support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), is implementing a National Reading Programme (NRP) aimed at improving the reading skills of Malawian students in Standards 1–4, nationwide. USAID is supporting the NRP by providing technical and financial support through three activities: (1) MERIT: The Malawi Early Grade Reading Improvement Activity; (2) SEGREM: Strengthening Early Grade Reading in Malawi; and (3) YESA: Yesani Ophunzira Activity (Assess the Learners). The funding for all three activities will end between 2018 and 2021, and one of the objectives of MERIT is to ensure pathways for sustainability of reading outcomes are instituted such that gains made under the NRP are sustained after USAID support ends. As a first step, MERIT conducted a capacity assessment of the education system in Malawi to determine the extent to which the system is performing a set of core functions that have been shown to promote and sustain learning (Crouch & DeStefano, 2017). These are: (1) setting and communicating expectations; (2) monitoring against expectations; and (3) providing targeted support to schools and teachers. The goal of the capacity assessment exercise was to identify the key areas and opportunities to strengthen the education system’s capacity for producing and sustaining learning outcomes. The capacity assessment exercise involved extensive research and participatory consultation processes at national, district, and school levels, and under the guidance of an Institutional System Strengthening (ISS) Taskforce convened by the MoEST. The assessment exercise reached 13 of 34 educational districts and included focus group discussions (FGDs) with district and school-level personnel and community members and interviews with key leaders at MoEST central office. The assessment team also reviewed key policy documents and plans. The assessment exercise was undertaken between March and May 2018 by MERIT staff with support of members from the ISS Taskforce.