Malawi’s Primary School Support Program: A School Fees Pilot (PSSP:SFP)
The Primary School Support Program: A School Fees Pilot (PSSP:SFP) was a three-year project funded by USAID/Malawi and the Government of Malawi to improve the quality of education in Dowa District. PSSP:SFP also had a mandate from the U.S. Congress to develop and pilot strategies that reduce the cost of schooling for Malawi’s most vulnerable children. Launched in January 2006, the project served all 226 public primary schools in Dowa District.
PSSP:SFP provided teachers with strengthened professional development opportunities and helped communities become more active in their support of education. Key project interventions included training teachers in content knowledge and interactive teaching methods, expanding teaching and learning resources available to teachers and pupils, developing an accelerated reading program for standard 1, and mobilizing communities to support education. The project trained 1,882 teachers in content and pedagogical practices resulting in better quality instruction and engagement of more children as active participants in their own learning. Over the course of 11 separate cycles of training, teachers received instruction in topics including handling large classes, supervision, numeracy and literacy skills, interactive learning methods, and material development skills. PSSP also launched mobile teacher training troupes (MTTT) using star performing teachers to provide personalized coaching in improved teaching at the school level. Teaching and learning resources to support improved content instruction and teaching methods were distributed throughout the district, including nearly 50,000 donated books to 214 school or school-accessible libraries, and the distribution of 180,000 teaching and learning resources to schools. Through these project efforts to support teacher professional development, teachers in Dowa District are much better equipped to provide quality content instruction, improving from a baseline of 30% of teachers applying participatory methods to 73% of teachers helping their students to play an active, participatory role in learning using interactive learning methods.
The project also provided small grants to school management committees to improve school infrastructure, establish life skills training for students, and support income-generating activities to meet the needs of orphans and vulnerable children. These small grants transformed community support for education by generating excitement and commitment for community management of resources, resulting in direct involvement in schools and a tenfold increase in financial resources available to the schools. Over the three years, 492 school grants were disbursed to the 226 schools resulting in 98% of school management committees and parent-teacher associations rehabilitating their school infrastructure and 76% undertaking income-generating activities and providing vocational skills training. All 226 schools received school incentive packages containing various teaching aids and education materials to support community efforts in the improvement of classroom instruction and reduce the costs of education. PSSP:SFP launched a unique voluntary service-learning program, the Mobilization Corps of Malawi, that provided the youth of Malawi the opportunity to help rural Malawian communities develop practical solutions to complex development problems, as well as develop the volunteer skills to seek future education and employment. In schools, they supported classroom teachers and classroom activities by helping develop classroom teaching aides. They established youth clubs and facilitated youth activities that encouraged both in-school and out-of-school children to meet and discuss issues of concern. They also supported community fundraising activities for the schools and encouraged community members to help improve schools’ physical infrastructure.
Given that pupils are the ultimate beneficiaries under PSSP:SFP, the project assesses pupils’ performance as a measure of its impact on student learning. To monitor the impact of PSSP:SFP the project annually assessed standard 1 pupils in Chichewa (one of Malawi’s regional languages) and standard 6 pupils in Mathematics and English. The baseline assessment was conducted in 2006 and the follow-up assessments were conducted in 2007 and 2008. Results of the final follow-up assessment showed that the project had an important impact on student learning. Attesting to the impact of PSSP:SFP’s early literary program, pupil performance in Chichewa improved from a baseline 25% of pupils reaching proficiency to 64% reaching proficiency two years later. In 2008, 49% of pupils in Dowa reached the highest level of proficiency in English, compared with 21% in 2006, representing a substantial improvement. Similarly, 58% in Dowa in 2008 reached proficiency or above in math, compared with 25% in 2006, also representing a substantial improvement. In all three subjects, the statistical analyses showed that the intervention group performed significantly better than the comparison group outside of the project district. In addition to performance, other outcome indicators improved dramatically. For example, enrollment rates increased 27% over the three years and pupil absenteeism fell from 24% to 10%.