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International Partnerships

Malawi - Keeping girls in school to secure their future

Malawi has stretched its resources to the limit, allocating 20% of its budget towards education. Primary education is free in Malawi and most children get to attend but then tend to drop out. The transition rate from primary to secondary is very low, and secondary school enrolment is dominated by boys. Keeping girls that enrol in secondary is a challenge as girls who start secondary education drop out mainly because of financial hardship, teenage pregnancy, and marriage.

Keeping girls in school is one of the best ways to end child marriage and early childbearing: Each year of secondary education may reduce the likelihood of marrying as a child or having a first child before the age of 18 by 6% points on average (see Economic Impacts of Child Marriage).

Restoring broken dreams, joy, happiness and hope among learners

The ‘Improving Secondary Education in Malawi’ (ISEM) programme, which is supported by the European Union and implemented by GENET in partnership with OXFAM, has been described as a “rescuer” by beneficiaries, especially learners.

From trainings in goal-setting and self-assertiveness to bursaries, and bicycle donation to school uniform and learning materials, learners said their road to fulfilling their dreams has been smoothed by the ISEM programme.

Mary Lukari ISEM beneficiary
Mary Lukari, ISEM beneficiary


Mary Lukari is among 177 current beneficiaries of the ISEM programme at Golong'ozi Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) in Dowa who are all smiles and overflowing with testimonies.

“I used to be a hopeless girl because my poor parents couldn’t afford my school fees. But with the introduction of the ISEM programme, I am now a girl on the move. I am assured that I am going to complete my secondary education. My responsibility now is to work hard in class and be focused on my goals,” said the 14-year-old.

Mary added that the ISEM programme has built her self-image.

“People used to bully me as a sick person because of my slim body and this forced me to feel sorry for myself. Sometimes, I could cry and blame God why He created me this way. But until ISEM programme taught me about self-esteem, I could not worry and mind people’s negativity anymore,” said Mary.

I used to be a hopeless girl because my poor parents couldn’t afford my school fees. But with the introduction of the ISEM programme, I am now a girl on the move.

Mary Lukari, 14

Now, Mary has become one of the most improved and courageous learners at Golong’ozi school. She takes part in school activities. She was the main speaker who represented her fellow learners during a recent meeting which girls organised to engage communities on various issues such as education and health rights.

Improving school attendance, learning with bicycles

With sweat oozing, Esther Funwell, a Form 3 learner at Chibanzi CDSS in Dowa, always attended morning classes very late and tired while first subjects had already been taught.

This did not only affect her performance in the subjects, but also lowered her overall grades.

“Every day I was starting off to school at 5:30 early in the morning, but still I could get there past 8 while a first morning lesson has already been delivered. This happened almost every day,” said Esther.

On a luck day, she could find a lesson halfway, but still could hardly concentrate due to tiredness resulting from a long walk coupled with running from her home.

She used to walk for more than 2 hours to get to school every morning. She said she was performing badly in the subjects she was missing.

Esther Funwell, ISEM beneficiary
Esther Funwellwith her bike


Things started to improve for Esther when she received a bicycle from the ISEM programme. She has been able to reach school on time and attend the first morning lessons, she says.

“I was one of the most late-comers at my school. But now, the bicycle has eased my movement challenges which were affecting my schooling. I am now able to come at school in good time and attend the morning classes,” she said.

Esther added that the bicycle is also helping her to reach home in good time unlike in the past when she would get home very late and tired.

“It was not safe at all to get home as late as 7pm every day. But the bicycle has saved me from this danger. I am now getting home in time, giving me enough time to rest and plan my homework and night studies,” said the aspiring doctor.

Esther is among the current 51 girls at Chibanzi Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) who have benefited from the bicycles, according to Jonathan Banda, the head teacher.

ISEM beneficiaries with their bicycles
ISEM beneficiaries with their bicycles, photo credit: Moses Nyirenda
OXFAM / Moses Nyirenda

A girl’s empowerment network

A girl’s empowerment network

"I have now embraced a purpose of my life and education. I want to become a better person and journalist when I complete my education.

At first, I regarded going to school as an ordinary practice without setting personal goals," said Halima Banda, a learner who goes to EU-supported school, Chibanzi CDSS in Dowa.

She said sessions on goal-setting and career talk have distinguished her from an ordinary school goer and transformed her into an ambitious girl.

"Knowing what you want to be in life or achieve at the end of a particular assignment is different from doing things traditionally. ISEM programme has helped me to set realistic goals on every thing I do including studying," said Halima.

Halima Banda
Halma Banda, ISEM beneficiary

The EU-funded Improving Secondary Education in Malawi (ISEM) programme was launched in2016 to contribute to keep girls and vulnerable students in school.