A Comparison of Students' Achievement in Private and Conventional Public Secondary Schools in Malawi from a Gender Perspective

Article excerpt

In recent years, interest in gender and education has risen because of the 'Education for All' targets and the Millennium Development Goals on gender equality in education by 2015. While the focus has mainly been on access, achievement is also an important aspect. For instance, girls' poor performance reduces their chances of entry into post-basic education in countries like Malawi where selection is on merit.

Central to discussions about gender equality is the notion of quality, which is seen as crucial in expanding girls' capabilities, and accelerating progress towards the international goals (see, for example, Aikman and Unterhalter, 2005; Unterhalter, 2005). This is why it matters that education in Malawi be of good quality, as evidence to date indicates that the quality of most private schools is poor, due to lack of government regulation (Kiernan et al., 2000; British Council, 2001; Staff Development Institute, 2001; Chimombo et al., 2004; Lewin and Sayed, 2005; Rose, 2005; Chimombo, 2009). There are also quality issues in public schools, especially in community day secondary schools (see African Development Fund, 2001; Tudor-Craig, 2002; World Bank, 2004). Over and above, research fi ndings suggest secondary school girls' achievement is considerably lower than that of boys (Kadzamira, 1987, 1988; Khembo, 1991, 1998; Hyde, 1993, 1999; Mbano, 2003). Hence, the paper compares students' achievement in private and conventional public schools in order to arrive at an understanding of which type of school fosters girls' success and why.

The paper fi rst discusses issues around gender quality and the private/ public school divide before giving an overview of Malawi's secondary education. Thereafter, I explain the methods used for data collection and present fi ndings.

Gender, quality and private/public schooling

At the centre of recent debates about quality of schooling is the privatepublic school divide. While Cox and Jimenez (1990), Jimenez et al. (1991), Lockheed and Zhao (1993) and Jacob et al. (2008) argue that private schools are more effective than public ones in enhancing achievement in Colombia and Tanzania, Dominican Republic, the Philippines, and Uganda respectively, the opposite has been found to be true for Tanzania (Chediel et al., 2000; Lassibille et al., 2000; Lassibille and Tan 2001), Rwanda (World Bank 2003) and Indonesia (Newhouse and Beegle 2005). Psacharopoulos (1987) and Lockheed and Bruns (1990) report mixed fi ndings for Colombia and Tanzania, and Brazil, with respect to subject, suggesting that fi ndings differ depending on the kind of schools in a particular context.

According to Riddell (1993), the relative advantages of private and public schools have to be viewed against particular goals. That is, whether a particular school type is cost effective, promotes choice, or increases access. To these, one could add gender equality, as evidence indicates that this is a key issue internationally, let alone for Malawi. However, to date there is little critical analysis of the gender implications of private schooling in developing countries. For example, there is no consensus that the schools promote gender equity in terms of access and most of the work relates to the primary sector (see, Vavrus, 2002; Mehrotra and Panchamukhi, 2006; Tooley and Dixon, 2006; Srivastava, 2006). Where reference to achievement is made, it is not in great detail (Chimombo et al., 2004; Lewin and Sayed, 2005; Chimombo, 2009) to enable one to conclude that the schools enhance girls' achievement. It is therefore crucial to ascertain the relationship between gender differences in achievement and type of school.

Secondary education in Malawi

Secondary education is offered through government schools, grant-aided schools; partly funded by missions, community day schools (formerly distance learning centres operating in buildings supplied by communities), and private schools owned by individuals and some organisations. …