UNICEF Malawi is looking forward to hosting the next group of IWitnesses, who will be visiting projects funded by the IKEA Foundation’s Soft Toys for Education campaign. Education Specialist Milandu Mwale, who personifies “girl power” herself, is here to tell us more about education in the country.
My name is Milandu Mwale. I am the third girl in a family of 13 children. I am married to Alfred Mwale and we have two children, Amanda and Anita.
My education experience
I started my primary school in Karonga, a district in the northern part of Malawi. Unlike many girls in Malawi, I was privileged to have parents who supported my education. With this push, I was the first girl in my family to go to university. And as I pursued my career, I realised that I inspired and became a role model for my younger siblings.
I did my undergraduate degree at Mzuzu University, where I studied Education Science. I graduated top of my class. I was invited back to the university as part of the staff in 2004 after I had taught at a secondary school for a year. Starting as a young assistant lecturer, I progressed very quickly up the ladder and went to do my postgraduate training at the University of Botswana.
I returned to Mzuzu University in 2007, and I was offered courses to teach undergraduate students in the Faculty of Education, Department of Biological Sciences. I left Mzuzu University in 2010 after getting an invitation to help start a nursing college in Lilongwe.
I started with developing the school’s syllabus. As a team, we literally built the school from scratch. I later served as the Dean of Students and Senior Lecturer at the new college. In 2013, I joined UNICEF as an education specialist responsible for quality basic education and child-friendly schools.
My passion for the education sector
When I realised that I was able to set a good example for my siblings, I told myself to work to influence other children as well, which I did as a teacher and lecturer. In my ten years of teaching, I was frustrated because I only managed to reach girls who made it to secondary school and the university.
Malawi has a high rate of girls dropping out of school in the lower classes due cultural systems that favour boys in education and early pregnancies. And these were the girls whom I felt needed my help more. UNICEF has given me the opportunity to reach out to many of these girls as I work in programmes that encourage girls from the start of their educational life.
My ‘normal day’ at UNICEF
I work with partners on the ground, ensuring the programme to promote learning in schools is running smoothly and children are actually benefitting from the education.
Challenges of the job
The biggest challenge of my job is working in an environment where the quality of education is so low. As a country, we have managed to get the majority of children in schools; we are attempting to reduce the dropout rates, but every day we worry about the children who are in school and yet still cannot read or write. That is my biggest challenge.
IKEA Foundation’s impact in the education sector in Malawi
The IKEA Foundation’s support has helped improve schools in Malawi to be child friendly. This means more children now have access to a quality education with better facilities to support their growth. The IKEA Foundation has also supported teacher training through upgrading teachers’ education.
In addition, the IKEA Foundation has contributed to the construction of latrines that are safe for girls, which has motivated them to attend classes. With support from the IKEA Foundation, we have also managed to engage communities to value their children’s education by taking part in the management of schools through school management committees to make sure that education standards are not falling.