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Malawi, officially known as the Republic of Malawi, is a country situated in Southeast Africa that was once known as Nyasaland. A completely landlocked country, it is bordered by Zambia to the northwest, Tanzania to the northeast and Mozambique to the east south and west, and has a total geographic area of 45,560 square miles. The capital and largest city in Malawi is Lilongwe, while Blantyre and Mzuzu are the second and third-largest cities respectively. The name Malawi, which is thought to mean the “Warm Heart of Africa,” comes from the Maravi, an old name of the Nyanja people that still inhabit the area.
Malawi has a total permanent population of roughly 15 million, and with a high population growth rate of 2.75%, the population is expected to swell to 45 million by the year 2050. Like most African states, Malawi is very ethnically diverse, with a population that is made up of Chewa, Nyanja, Tumbuka, Yao, Lomwe, Sena, Tonga, Ngoni and Ngonde native ethnic groups, as well as smaller populations of Asians and Europeans.
English is the official language of the country—Malawi English that is modeled after the British form of the English language. It is used officially in matters of government, education and commerce. The Chichewa language, however, is spoken commonly by nearly 60 percent of the population, followed by other native languages, including Chinyanja (13%), Chiyao (10%) and Chitumbuka (9.5%). Approximately 80 percent of the population is Christian, of whom most practice either Roman Catholicism or the Presbyterian faith, the latter offered by the Church of Central Africa, Presbyterian. Islam is the largest religious minority in Malawi and is practiced by roughly 13 percent of the population.
Education in Malawi
Education in Malawi is overseen by the national government (Ministry of Education) and is free and compulsory for eight years—the years that comprise a student’s primary education. Malawi has an 8-4-4 system of education, consisting of primary school (known as Standard One through Standard Eight), secondary school (known as Form One through Form Four) and higher education, with the “4” representing the estimated number of years required to complete an undergraduate university degree.
In years past, primary education in Malawi focused on academic subjects geared towards preparing students for secondary school and beyond, but after years of colonial oppression by the Banda regime, primary schools today stress areas that are more practical in nature, focusing on agriculture and other vocations important to the Malawi economy. The reason behind this is the majority of students do not go on to secondary and university education, and for those that do, the schools at both of these levels are ill-equipped for meeting the educational standards needed for producing a well-trained labor force.
Most primary schools in Malawi are boarding schools, with about an equal distribution of single-sex and co-educational schools. Uniforms are required at every school and at every level—skirts and blouses for girls and pants or shorts and a shirt for boys. Extracurricular activities are encouraged at schools and include football (soccer), field hockey and cricket.
Many of the students who go on to earn a college degree at Malawi universities, including advanced degrees in fields such as medicine, later emigrate from the country to pursue greater opportunities and a better way of life in the developed world. This phenomenon, which is colloquially referred to as “brain drain,” is a very unfortunate reality in most African countries.