At the age of 80, Vingstone Lungu is pursuing education through adult learning, showcasing the power of resilience and the pursuit of knowledge regardless of age.
Lungu left school without a proper reason in 1959 and returned to school to overcome the challenges of illiteracy. Lungu's determination to improve his literacy skills is unyielding. While he struggles with English, his eagerness to learn is strong. He expressed gratitude to his teachers and urged the ministry to provide sufficient teaching materials.
"I used to meet up with so many challenges due to my illiterate life, signing things without even knowing and understanding them. That's why I thought it wise to come back to school at my age. I am able to read and write now, though it's only Chichewa. Still, struggling with English, but I know I will get there," he says.
Despite facing ridicule from some members of society, Lungu is unashamed of his pursuit of knowledge and encourages other elderly people to join him in this quest. He has been inspired by the President's call to continue learning every day.
Loveness Nyumayo, a 20-year-old who dropped out of school due to financial constraints, is also attending the adult literacy school.
She waited until this year to join the free program after her parents couldn't afford school fees due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I am a happy soul since I am able to read and write, thanks to the teachers here," she says.
The adult literacy class has eight students, one male and seven females, each with different backgrounds but sharing a common goal of acquiring knowledge and skills to lead better lives.
However, the instructors at PACE adult literacy school located at Chiwanja in Mzuzu – the Northern part of Malawi - revealed that the lack of resources is hindering their work.
Naomi Mhone, who has been teaching at the school for a year, expressed frustration about the shortage of teaching materials.
"We received three pieces of chalk two years ago from the social welfare, as it is we have been using our own resources to continue the work which is voluntary. It's a big challenge to us because we use our own locally available resources," she says.
She also requested the ministry to provide training and materials to assist them in their work.
She said: "We have been using our own resources to continue the work, which is voluntary. This lack of materials has made it difficult to deliver quality education to the students."
Bright Chilomba, an intern who goes to Mzuzu University, concurred with Mhone, saying, "If it's okay, we would like the ministry to be helping us with training at least, and also materials."
Arthur Gondwe, one of the instructors, urged those interested in adult education to attend the classes, calling it a great initiative.
He acknowledged that "although some of the learners may be slow in catching up, they are making progress."
Currently, the class has seven learners, comprising one male and six females, ranging in age from 28 to 60 years old.
The learners are taught Mathematics, English, and Chichewa from Monday to Thursday, between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Despite the challenges that the school faces, the students' enthusiasm to learn is remarkable.
The school is providing a much-needed opportunity for adults to learn, and the instructors are doing their best to deliver quality education.
Dr. Limbani Eliya Nsapato, Country Director of Edukans and Chairperson of the Board of Civil Society Education Coalition (CSEC), says "As a whole, while there have been some notable achievements in expanding literacy programs, there is still much to be desired in the nation's efforts to promote adult learning and education.”
“Unfortunately, many people are still illiterate, and there are significant disparities in access for women and people with disabilities. Furthermore, only a small fraction of the population is currently participating in adult literacy and education programs. Additionally, the national curriculum's focus on functional literacy rather than the integral development of adult learners makes it difficult for many learners to appreciate the benefits of their education."
Dr. Nsapato says technology can be used to enhance Adult Literacy Education in various ways.
He says, "For instance, digital literacy can be taught through computer-based learning, and mobile phones can be used to deliver educational content to learners. Furthermore, online learning platforms can be used to reach learners in remote areas, and e-books can replace traditional books, making learning more accessible and affordable. Additionally, technology can be used to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of adult literacy programs, and to provide personalized learning experiences for learners."
According to Dr. Nsapato, involving community leaders, local organizations, and civil society groups in promoting Adult Literacy Education can be an effective way of promoting adult education in Malawi.
"These groups," he says, "can organize community meetings, mobilize volunteers to support adult learners, and create literacy campaigns tailored to the specific needs of the community."
Mthawanji says another strategy that effectively promotes adult literacy education is creating partnerships with businesses, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies to provide resources and support.
"For example, businesses can donate materials or provide funding for adult literacy programs, while nonprofit organizations and government agencies can provide technical assistance, training, and support for program development and implementation,” he says.
Mthawanji emphasizes the importance of tailoring messages and outreach efforts to the specific needs and challenges of the community.
"This involves working with community members to identify the most pressing issues and concerns related to adult literacy and developing messaging and campaigns that resonate with their experiences and perspectives," he says.
Overall, he says, creating awareness and mobilizing community support for adult literacy education requires a multi-pronged approach that involves engaging a range of stakeholders, tailoring outreach efforts to the specific needs of the community, and building partnerships and collaborations to support program development and implementation.
To address the obstacles that impede the successful implementation of adult learning and education in Malawi, Mthawanji recommends taking a multifaceted approach.
He suggests increasing funding for ALE programs through lobbying for increased government funding, seeking grants from private foundations, and engaging in fundraising efforts.
Additionally, he recommends expanding program offerings to attract different types of learners and teach them skills tailored to their needs. ALE programs can partner with local businesses and community organizations to offer courses such as job-specific training and English as second language classes.
"To address retention rates, many adult learners struggle to complete literacy programs due to life demands, such as work and family obligations. To overcome these barriers, programs can offer flexible scheduling, such as evening and weekend classes, and provide support services, such as childcare and transportation assistance," he says.
Mthawanji also notes that cost can be a significant barrier, particularly for individuals who may not have the financial resources to cover the costs of tuition, textbooks, and other related expenses.
"One solution could be to offer scholarships or grants for learners who demonstrate financial need, or to partner with community organizations and businesses to provide funding support for literacy education programs," he says.
Additionally, fear of embarrassment, transportation issues, and low motivation can prevent adults from participating in literacy education programs. Mthawanji recommends creating a supportive environment that fosters inclusivity and encourages learners to feel comfortable sharing their experiences and learning from each other. Programs can also provide transportation assistance and emphasize the practical benefits of literacy skills to increase motivation.
Dr. Nsapato identifies inadequate funding as the major obstacle to adult education in Malawi, with the adult literacy budget averaging below 1% of the education budget for many years.
“In the past financial year, the government allocated only K95 million for the implementation of adult literacy programs, which was significantly below the projected budget of at least K393 million. As a result, adult literacy classes continue to lack teaching and learning materials, and there are no resources to train or refresh teachers,” he says.
Meanwhile, Isaac Katopola, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Gender, Community Development, and Social Welfare, has expressed optimism that the Adult Learning and Education Management Information System (ALEMIS) will improve adult education in Malawi once the government rolls it out following DVV International's handover of ICT equipment in 2022.
Last year, the German organization DVV International donated ICT equipment worth K24 million to the Ministry of Gender to promote the Management Information System (MIS) for Adult Learning and Education (ALE) and Integrated Adult Education (IAE).
The ICT materials, which include tablets, desktop computers, and printers, were handed over to the ministry.
According to Katopola, ALEMIS is a significant milestone in the ALE sector as it would improve adult learning and education in the ministry.
"This ALEMIS is a great milestone for the ministry in general and the National Centre for Literacy and Adult Education (NACLAE) in particular," he said.
The Malawi Housing and Population Census of 2018 revealed that 4.7 million individuals in Malawi, accounting for 31.4 percent of the population, lack literacy skills.
Of this figure, females constitute 1.6 million, representing 34.1 percent.
In a world where education is often taken for granted, Lungu and Nyumayo's stories serve as a reminder of the importance of adult education. No matter the circumstances, it is never too late to learn.
Their determination to pursue knowledge should inspire us all to value education and the opportunities it provides.
This news article was originally published by the AfricaBrief, and is being shared with their explicit permission.