Friday, 30 October 2009

Education in Malawi

A short overview on education in Malawi.

Nursery education:

Nursery education is extremely limited in Malawi - the government is now trying to improve this and is investing in building pre-schools, certainly in the cities. There are, of course, private nurseries for those that value education and have the money to pay for it.

Primary education:

Primary education in Malawi is supposed to begin at 5 yrs old. Schools start at Standard 1 and go up to Standard 8, which is the final year of primary. Pupils do not proceed to the next year group automatically, but when they pass the end of year exams. This results in some older children remaining at very early primary school grades for a number of years, and leaving primary education (Standard 8) almost adults. Primary education is free but not compulsory, but there is an enormous shortage of teachers (the standard of whom can be very low with outdated practices) due to a shortage of teacher training schools and facilities. Schools have little or no equipment, teachers are quite poorly paid and the facilities are basic with those lucky to have a classroom often sitting on the floor.

Secondary education:

It is extremely competitive to get into a state run secondary school. Private schools are available, with entrance exams, but many people are unable to afford these. In fact, people often find it hard to pay the nominal fees for state secondary education. It is often very academic, leading to MSCE (Malawi School Certificate in Education) which is equivalent to GSCEs in the United Kingdom. There is little vocational training to assist secondary school leavers with jobs post school - and doesn't allow for the spread of learning styles or encourage the pupils to think, rather deliver lessons verbatim.

Unemployment is high, and there are many jobseekers with MSCE qualifications, which doesn't encourage school pupils to enter secondary education.

Elite secondary schools:

There are a handful elite international private schools in Malawi available for rich Malawian and ex-pat pupils. Here they can take United Kingdom A-Levels and other international qualifications that make them eligible to continue their education around the world.

University education:

Tertiary education in Malawi is extremely limited, with a number of small universities in some of the major cities. To enter university, a malawian has to get certain grades, and pass an entrance exam to study. There are a wide range of subjects to study at university, but you may not get your first choice (as you have to put a 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice of subjects).

Job prospects after leaving university are much better, but there are still a dearth jobs for the graduiates to apply for.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Bilharzia in Lake Malawi

Lake Malawi is one of the biggest bodies of freshwater in Africa, and a beautiful place to visit. There are however parts of the lake where swimming is not recommended, which are predominantly in the far north and far south of the country. This is due to Bilharzia, a disease contracted from snails, that plagues small areas of the Malawi lakeshore.

Adhering to the following simple guidelines will minimise (but not necessarily eliminate) the risk of infection. Following visits to Lake MalaƔi, be aware of fatigue or flu-like symptoms, and consult a medical doctor for an examination.

Avoid contact with water in streams and ponds behind the shoreline,
as these habitats are potential high-risk transmission sites (as they are in most other African countries).

The good news is that most of the central part of the lake is Bilharzia free - and you are able to swim on Sambani Lodge's beautiful beach without a problem!

Alos, the tourism department in Malawi is planning a programme of certification for Bilharzia free areas - read more here: - more to come in future posts!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Travelling from Lilongwe to Mzuzu

I have been asked quite often the best way to get from Lilongwe, Malawi's capital, to Mzuzu, so thought I would post the options below:

Taxi: Easily the quickest way! costs about £90 and gets you there in under 3 hours
Minibus: Seen by some as the only way to travel in Africa, let alone Malawi, can be dangerous but cheap and fun (if you don't mind the chickens under your seat...)
Coach: Not expensive, and pretty quick (5-6 hours) - need to go into the town to pick this up
Plane: Not available any more, but you could fly from Mzuzu to Lilongwe on a 24 seater twin-prop for about £50
Private car hire: Prohibitively expensive. Get a 4x4 if you are taking this option!
There are two routes to go one is via the lakeside (this is longer) or directly up the centre of the country. Roads are quite good, though bridges can get washed away in the rainy season.
Hope that helps!

Find out more about the capsized sugar truck on the road in this post.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Nsima - The staple food of Malawi

The staple food of malawi is Nsima.

Nsima is cooked, ground, white maize flour that is used as the stodge for the majority of malawian meals. The maize can either:

a) be ground by the family who take the dry maize kernels (sweetcorn to you and I) and then pound it with a huge pestle and mortar (most likely made of wood).

b) be bought from a shop where a more industrial process has mass produced the flour.

A cheaper version is a brown maize flour which is rougher in texture (but in my opinion more flavoursome!)

Nsima preparation

Ingredients: Maize flour - twice as much water as maize flour.

  • Boil a kettle of water
  • Whisk flour and water into a paste (about half a cup of flour, with a similar amount of water). You make the paste to avoid the nsima becoming lumpy.
  • Stir the paste into a pot of simmering water, mixing constantly. The aim is to make a very runny porridge.
  • Simmer (just below boiling) for 20-30 minutes and your nsima will thicken to the desired consistency.
  • At this stage, add the rest of your flour while mixing vigorously with a heavy duty wooden spoon. Once you have added all the flour, keep stirring for about 5 minutes with the heat still on.
  • Once the Nsima has formed a firm paste, allow it to steam with a lid on for a further 10 minutes on a very low heat
  • Finally, get a bowl with water, and use a saucer or big spoon out of the pan into 'thick pancakes' which you can either dish onto plates or pile onto a serving dish for people to help themselves. Remember to dip the spoon or saucer in the water between each nsima cake to ensure they don't stick.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

The Capsized Sugar Truck

Sugar from a crashed lorry on the Lake Malawi lakeshore road, on the way to Sambani LodgeQuite a random and funny story.
We were on our way up the Coastal road from Lilongwe to Sambani Lodge when we rounded a bend to find an upturned truck lying across the road (driver looking dazed but fine) and the sugary contents of his cargo strewn across the road.
The thing that really struck me was the frenzied activity of the local people who were running from far and wide to sweep up great swathes of sugar and collect it in bags, buckets and even t-shirts. You can see from the picture the extent of the sugar crash!
Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch - I'm sure there were some sugar headaches that night!

Find out more about travelling from Lilongwe to Mzuzu in this post.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Snakes in Malawi

Yes. It's true. Malawi does have snakes. Nasty ones!

Don't worry too much though, unless you are doing some serious bush bashing, snakes don't like to be too close to noisy habitation.

Snakes in Malawi:

Black Mamba:

The beast of the Malawian bush. An aggressive snake that has been know to attack cars driving along the side of the road. If you see a long, big black snake - get away from it!

There's a good picture of a black mamba on this site, at least you'll know what you're looking for.

Green Mamba:

Green mambas are more common, and are not aggressive snakes. Bright green in appearance they will spend more time trying to get away from you.

There's a great picture of a green mamba on this site.

Puff Adder (and others):

Short, fat and poisonous. Adders are short and very well camoflaged on the ground.

Tree Snakes:

Poisonous and normally found in mango trees (to catch the mice!) there are range of tree snakes in Malawi.

In my many visits, I have only seen one snake, so don't let it put you off - you'll see more snakelife in Australia!