By Merina Phiri
Our own Malawi, this land so fair,
Fertile and brave and free
With its lakes, refreshing mountain air,
How greatly blest are we.
Hills and valleys, soil so rich and rare,
Give us a bounty free.
Wood and forest, plains so broad and fair,
All beauteous Malawi.
Malawi is blessed with a lot of resources to enable the citizens to live their lives to the fullest! These ranges from beautiful mountains and the lake to arable land. One of the blessings the country is currently enjoying from the arable land is a bumper harvest of sweet potatoes. People continue to make jokes on how eating lots of these sweet potatoes is going to kill Malawians. Arguably, the readily availability and low prices of the sweet potatoes are behind the ‘potato boom’ being experienced. Neither bread nor cassava is an alternative for many. However, one wonders whether this bumper harvest is being preserved or processed for future use. Or is anyone thinking of initiatives to train people on how to preserve part of this blessing for future use? Ideally, such an initiative would ensure that the country is food secure with a fallback on the potatoes in the case of poor maize harvest due to a number of factors including effects of cyclone Freddy and dry spells.
In March 2023, a number of Southern Region districts were hit by cyclone Freddy leading to the loss of property and lives. Interviewing members of the affected communities elucidated various narrations about the cause of the napolo (water eruption from the ground). One narrative caught my attention: cyclone Freddy was a furious man looking for his wife Anna (cyclone Anna) who left home in 2022 and never came back. Another narrative was putting the blame on political leaders who went to the sea to get satanic powers in preparation for the campaign period. Listening to the tone of these stories one would be convinced that they are true because of how they were being told. Kusadziwa nkufa komwe so goes the saying. How does one provide a counter narrative to such narratives?
Before the catastrophic cyclone Freddy, Malawi also has experienced a skills development training revolution by Kondwani Kachamba. The fellow has been travelling across the country teaching people various skills to empower them, earn a living through various production processes aimed at improving their livelihoods. This has seen a lot of people in communities embarking on production of various goods, entrepreneurship and agri-business. The approach that was taken was a most direct one, helping people realize their potential and using readily available resources to develop something more valuable. This is against a background of people relying on change and handouts to come from elsewhere to change their status core. A lot of people have testified how their lives have changed after being trained and putting into practice the knowledge and skills obtained.
When we look all around us, there are so many contemporary issues the world is encountering. Some of the emerging issues pose as challenges and have a bearing on our lives. The question is, how do we survive such challenges? How do we move on from here? How do we make the world a better place to live in? The stories above are just highlighting how adult education can be used to address various issues.
Adult Education is one of the main solutions of addressing the problems facing the world today. In adult education, a range of activities are designed for the purposes of supporting learning among those whose age, social roles, or self-perception defines them as adults. Thus this doesn’t only include those who are in their 40’s, 50’s or there about. But it also includes the youth and everyone defined as an adult from different perspectives be it cultural, legal etc. The activities of adult education are linked to life-long learning. As long as we are living, we have to continuously learn something new in adapting ourselves to the changes in our environment. Arguably, if we stop learning, we may stop to exist and become obsolete. The quest for knowledge should therefore be the desire of every individual. It has to be the responsibility of each one of us to improve ourselves in whatever we do. Whether we have gone through the formal schooling or not, we still have to upgrade our knowledge and skills in various aspects.
The challenge before us is that for a long time adult education has been narrowly understood as literacy education. This conceptualisation is what has affected advancement and implementation of adult education programmes. The 5th Integrated Household Survey (2020) shows that Malawi has a literacy rate of 75.5 percent among people aged 15 years and above. This rate is higher for males, at 83 percent, than for females at 68.8 percent. Analysis by place of residence shows that 98.1 percent of individuals in urban areas are literate compared to 72.1 percent in rural areas. Malawi’s 2018 Population and Housing Census revealed that 84 percent of the population lives in rural areas. These are the people that have the energy and potential to bring about change. This calls for more adult education initiatives to be channeled to these parts of the country. Hence the need to re-conceptualise adult education especially in the context of climate change, economic crises and ongoing local struggles.
As recommended by UNESCO (2015) adult education should embrace literacy, skills development and citizenship. In this regard, the literacy element is only the starting point of education as it helps opening up our minds to understand things better. Once we have moved past that stage the focus should then be on enhancing knowledge and skills development so that people can improve their livelihood in addressing various issues. Once a person is knowledgeable enough then they can be comfortably participating in development initiatives in their community by being responsible citizens. Once we have reached this stage, the focus then is on an integrated approach to development.
In address the challenges of adult education, the government ratified the National Adult Literacy and Education Policy in February 2020. The goal is to reduce illiteracy and enhancing skills development and education amongst adults and youths for effective participation in social economic development. Thus providing an enabling legal framework for implementation of adult education activities. This is further supported by linkages of the policy to other policies and legislations both locally and internationally. Further commitment was also shown with the development of the strategic plan for the policy (2022-2027) which was to operationalize the National Literacy and Education Policy by providing guidance to various stakeholders in implementing strategies and programmes aimed at fostering acquisition of knowledge and skills by adults and targeted youths.
Nonetheless, it is important to mention that having the enabling environment is not sufficient for the advancement of Adult Education programmes. There is need for consensus building amongst stakeholders so that the coordinated efforts should bear fruits. This will include addressing institutional arrangements like development of an effective implementation structure, having sufficient and qualified human resources to implement Adult education programmes, having leaders and management who are committed to the course and also effective partnerships. It is also important to include participation of the beneficiaries in the planning, implementation and evaluation of these activities so that we can have a true reflection of the efforts and results. Thus the adult education programmes would be crucial to the realisation of the country’s 2063 vision.
The article was first published in Malawi's The Sunday Times