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USAID invests in and promotes girls’ education in Malawi where drop-out rates for girls is very high due to societal issues such as early pregnancies.
USAID invests in and promotes girls’ education in Malawi where drop-out rates for girls is very high due to societal issues such as early pregnancies.
Photo: Health Policy Plus


Primary Education: In 1994, Malawi introduced free primary education. This major education reform resulted in an explosion in student enrollment, straining the entire system. Huge class sizes and an inadequate supply of infrastructure, teachers, and teaching and learning materials has led to extremely poor student performance, particularly in the area of literacy. In 2010, a staggering 97 percent of Standard two learners and 69 percent of Standard four learners were unable to answer a single Chichewa comprehension question correctly.  By 2018, following intensive investment by the Government of Malawi and USAID to support the National Reading Program, the percentage of grade four learners reading vernacular grade level text with comprehension almost doubled to 15 percent (from 7.8 percent in 2017). These improvements indicate the beginning of a solid foundation for early grade learners in Malawi, though more needs to be done. While the net primary enrolment rate has remained stable and high at around 90 percent, which is among the highest in the Eastern and Southern African region, student retention in primary education remains a major problem. By Standard eight, only 41 percent of students complete their primary education on time.

Secondary Education: In 1999, the Government of Malawi expanded access to the secondary level by rapidly creating Community Day Secondary Schools (CDSSs), which account for three quarters of all current secondary students. In the effort to expand access to secondary school quickly, challenges of understaffed schools, lack of basic infrastructure, and lack of teaching and learning materials persisted. The quality of teaching and learning and access to secondary school continue to be an issue. While primary to secondary transition rates are improving, and now stand at 37.6 percent, net enrollment rates at the secondary level (the measure of secondary school access for the appropriate age group) are low, at only 16 percent. This means that only 16 of every 100 children of secondary school age actually start secondary school and 84 out of every hundred do not. Furthermore, only a quarter of those who start secondary school complete their schooling without delays.  Of those who complete secondary school, only half pass their Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations.

Tertiary Education: From independence in 1964, inheriting no higher education institutions, Malawi has built around two dozen public and private universities catering to approximately 62,000 students today. However, enrollment rates in tertiary education remain at less than 1percent, dismally lower than averages in Africa and the rest of the world. Further, students from marginalized and disadvantaged backgrounds are far less likely to access tertiary education. Though a progressive government funding subsidy exists at the primary and secondary levels, only 3 percent of spending goes toward the two lowest quintiles of students (the poorest 40 percent) at the tertiary level. 82 percent of spending on higher education goes to the highest quintile (the top 20 percent). 


USAID works with the Ministry of Education (MoE) and other development partners to address these challenges to ensure that students acquire the essential skills they need to succeed and lead Malawi towards greater economic prosperity and self-reliance. USAID works at each level of education, focusing on: reading in the early grades; access to secondary education, especially for adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) and marginalized and vulnerable youth, and; strengthening higher education institutions in Malawi to create the next generation of Malawi’s leaders and a workforce relevant to industry and socio-economic needs. 



1. Reading for All Malawi (REFAM):

This activity supports inclusive education as a component of the National Reading Program in Malawi, and is implemented by Juarez & Associates, running from 2/6/2019 – 7/11/2021 with $2,962,474 funding.

2. National Reading Program Implementation and Expansion (NRPIE):

This activity provides technical assistance to the MoE to develop Standards 1-4 Chichewa and English Performance Level Descriptors (PLDs) and reading benchmarks as well as revise Standards 5-8 English and Chichewa curricula. It is implemented by Florida State University, and runs from 11/25/2019 to 9/24/2021 with a funding of $596,521.

3. YESA Activity (Assess the Learners):

This activity supports the MoE to deliver national reading assessments (at national, school and community level) and to provide remediation in Chichewa and English to Standards 1-4 learners in support of the National Reading Program (NRP). It is implemented by Abt Associates and runs from 2/22/2018 to 2/21/2022 with  a funding of $15,390,272.


1. Apatseni Mwai Atsikana Aphunzire (AMAA):

This activity seeks to provide targeted support to adolescent girls and young women in upper primary and secondary school through life skills education, science and math, and school construction. It is implemented by Save the Children, from 12/15/2018 to 09/30/2021 with a funding of $11,199,806.

 2. Secondary Education Expansion Development Construction Management Contract (SEED CMC):

The activity provides engineering oversight services for construction work under both the SEED Urban and SEED Rural school activities. It is implemented by Tetra Tech, and runs from 4/15/2019 to 9/30/2022 with a funding of $8,798,853.


Strengthening Higher Education Access in Malawi (SHEAMA):

The activity aims to increase Malawi’s skilled and employable workforce by building the capacity of and fostering collaboration between five Malawian universities and enabling 14,940 students to attend tertiary education. It is implemented by Arizona State University and is running from 12/4/2018 to 12/3/2022 with a funding of $9,572,725.


Primary Education

  • By the conclusion of the 2017-2018 academic year, Standard 2 and 4 students nationwide improved on 22 out of 24 key reading indicators in Chichewa and English after only one year of National Reading Program Implementation
  • The number of Standard 2 students who scored zero on the National Reading Assessment letter sound identification subtest fell by 10.1 percentage points (from 84.2 percent in 2017 to 74.3 percent) and students who received a zero score for English oral reading fluency fell by 8.3 percentage points (from 86.9 percent in 2018 to 78.6 percent in 2018).
  • In Standard 4, the national average for reading comprehension in Chichewa increased by 9 percentage points (from 28.8 percent in 2017 to 37.8 percent in 2018)
  • The number of Standard 4 learners reading Chichewa at grade level has nearly doubled after one year of National Reading Program implementation (from 7.8 percent in 2017 to 15 percent in 2018)
  • In targeted districts, from 2015 to 2018, the transition rate to secondary school improved from 39 percent to 60 percent; pass rates on the Primary School Leaving Certificate Examination increased from 60 percent to 82 percent; and repetition rates decreased from 23 percent to 16 percent.

Secondary Education

  • USAID built 11 community Day Secondary Schools (CDSSs) and an additional five CDSSs in coordination with the United States Department of Agriculture and World Food Programme that is enabling additional 3,600 students to access secondary education in the country. 
  • USAID and PEPFAR, in collaboration with the Government of Malawi, has expanded 33 urban secondary schools by constructing 96 new classrooms which have decongested these overpopulated schools through creation of an additional 5,760 seats.
  • USAID and PEPFAR, in collaboration with the government of Malawi, launched the construction of up to 200 new secondary schools in Malawi that are expected to expand secondary school education access by at least 14 percent country-wide. 

Tertiary Education

  • Since 2018 USAID has been strengthening five Malawian Public Universities (MUST, Polytechnic/MUBAS, CHANCO, LUANAR and MZUNI) to expand youths’ access to higher education through delivery of ODeL programs and provision of scholarship. So far 1,333 students enrolled/completed various programs with 218 receiving scholarships.


Cross-agency coordination is paramount in the programming taking place in Malawi. The following USG agencies are supporting Basic Education in Malawi: 

  • President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), supporting the construction of SEED secondary schools throughout the country, to combat effects of lack of education in AGYW, including HIV/AIDS.
  • Peace Corps, supporting Primary Education, Secondary Education, and Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary Education. 
  • U.S. Department of State, supporting Primary Education, Secondary Education, Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary Education, Workforce Development, and Education System Strengthening. 
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, supporting Pre-Primary Education and Primary Education.  This includes McGovern-Dole and Food for Progress projects. 


Last updated: September 15, 2022

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