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Misdiagnosis of Poor Standard of Education in Malawi

The language of instruction debate is attracting attention in Malawi after the government's decided that students would be taught in English from Standard One. Steve Sharra joins the debate arguing that the problem of education in Malawi has been misdiagnosed:

There are good reasons why many Malawians are happy with the new policy for English to be the language of instruction in Malawian public schools. We Malawians use proficiency in spoken English as a product of a good education. If somebody speaks good English, they are seen as being educated. In many cases that is quite true. The more years one spends in Malawian schools beyond primary and secondary schools, the better one's English becomes.

But there are cases when that can be misleading. The test lies in knowing when it is accurate to equate English proficiency with good education, and when it is misleading. It is accurate to equate good spoken English with good education when the substance of what one is speaking shows reasoning and problem-solving skills. English can also be an accurate measure of one’s education when one is able to read and write proficiently, analyse information, and make informed decisions from that information.

In this very rare class every student had a textbook.
But it should be pointed out that every language of the world has these same attributes that can be an accurate measure of a good education. That is why most successful countries continue to invest in their local languages. A good education should enable one to put one's education to meaningful use in their individual life and in contributing to society. A country can only develop when the majority of the population have access to the knowledge that matters in changing their lives and their communities. When that knowledge is tucked away in a language only a tiny elite can understand and utilise, society stagnates. There can be no meaningful, equitable development.

In the current debate on the language of instruction in Malawian schools, we are misdiagnosing the causes of what we see as low standards of education. We think education standards are low because students come out of the system not knowing how to speak English.

Deputy Minister Commits Suicide after Electoral Defeat in Malawi

City Press reports the suicide of Godfrey Kamanya, a Malawian deputy minister, apparently after losing his parliamentary seat during the general elections held on 20 May 2014 :

The official results of Tuesday’s election are still to be announced. But preliminary election results aired on radio stations indicated that Kamanya was faring badly in the poll and was likely to lose his parliamentary seat.

In a suicide note now held by police, Kamanya reportedly said he took his life because of misunderstandings related to politics. He also outlined how his wealth would be distributed and asked incumbent President Joyce Banda, under whom he served, to help pay the school fees for his child.

In Defence of Malawian Languages

Following Malawi's government decision to introduce English as a medium of instruction from grade one, Steve Sharra defends local languages and makes the case for multilingualism:

Teachers and lecturers in our secondary schools and universities are observing a trend in which students from private schools speak perfect English, but their reasoning, writing and problem-solving skills are not well developed. This is even as the Independent Schools Association of Malawi (ISAMA) is reporting reporting that 80 percent of students selected to Malawian universities are coming from private schools.

Language researchers have also found that children who speak more than one language exhibit better academic performance than children who know only one language, regardless of what that language is. This is why our language of instruction policy needs to promote multilingualism, and not monolingualism. Just a generation ago most Malawians were multi-lingual, speaking two or more languages on average. Today’s generation knows two languages, English and Chichewa, on average. If we do not enact policies to develop our local languages, the coming generations of Malawians will be reduced to only one language, English.

Monolingualism encourages insularity, a restricted worldview in which the only knowledge available to one is from one linguistic source. The danger with the new policy, as it stands, is the damage it can potentially cause to Malawian languages. The new policy will mean that as a country we will allocate more resources to English at the expense of nurturing and developing local languages.

Malawians Should Brace for More Cash-gate Scandal

Steve Sharra explains why Malawians should brace for more cash-gate scandal after revelations that some powerful Malawians abused the Integrated Financial Management System internal controls to loot billions of public funds:

Social inequality is creating deep rifts among Malawians, a ticking time bomb. The increasing incidents of mass violence and vandalism we are witnessing across the country daily are but a tiny ripple in the sea of resentment resulting from this inequality. That is made more complicated by how our political parties have no established means of raising funds for their very survival, rendering the entire political arena a charade and a get-rich-quick scheme. Unless we address the fundamental causes of the deep inequality ripping Malawian society apart, we should brace ourselves for more cashgates.

Malawi: Time to Rebuild Brand Malawi

Austin explains why Malawi needs to rebuild brand Malawi: “Over the past year or so Malawi has not been projected internationally in very positive light. The warm heart has been mired in problems, shortages and intolerance of varying kinds and magnitudes.”

Is Power Too Sweet for Ailing African Leaders to Step Down?

Gershom Ndhlovu looks at the reasons why ailing African leaders wont step down:

There have been rumours, innuendoes and even insinuations regarding the health, or the lack of it, of Zambia’s President Michael Chilufya Sata, in office since September 2011. These have been spread by the largely unregulated online media that the Patriotic Front (PF) government is intent on controlling or even shutting down altogether.

The government has not particularly responded to these rumours apart from issuing one-liner statements refuting the stories about the health status of the 76 year-old head of state and veteran politician.

However, when Sata appeared at a May 1 Labour Day parade to receive a traditional salute from workers in the land, the appearance was very brief and only accompanied by a one minute address before getting into his motorcade for a three kilometre drive back to the presidential palace, a lot of people were convinced the President was not well.

Malawi Elections 2014

Malawi votes for presidential elections Tuesday May 20, 2014. Follow live updates on Twitter @Malawi2014 and @MEIC_2014.

What Happened to Creative Writing in Malawi?

Steve Sharra discusses the reasons behind the fall of quality of creative writing in Malawi:

Of the many private universities that are mushrooming across the country, very few offer humanities courses where people can study languages and literature, creative writing and literary criticism. The University of Malawi has been operating without a university bookshop for some eighteen years now. Funding problems in the universities mean that even the university libraries are unable to stock new literature.

Africa: African Women on Fire

Rumbidzai Dube explains why 2012 is the year for African women: “2012 has been a progressive year for African women in global politics. In April Joyce Banda of Malawi became the first ever female president of Malawi and the Second Female president in Africa [...]Just yesterday, Dr Nkosana Dhlamini-Zuma became the first female Chairperson for the African Union Commission.”

Malawi: The Road to Abolishing the Death Penalty

Nlex describes the road to abolishing the death penalty in Malawi: “Malawi’s Legal Aid volunteers sift through a pile of files of those on death row. They are doing everything they can to abolish the death penalty in the country and lessen existing prisoners’ sentences. At least 29 men currently sit on death row in Malawi; however, no one has been executed in the country since 1994. Those sentenced to death are entitled to a mandatory appeal in the Supreme Court.”

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