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Civic and Citizenship Education in Malawi | Country Profiles: Citizenship Education Around the World |

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Civic and Citizenship Education in Malawi

Gray Kalindekafe

/ 12 Minuten zu lesen

According to the author, to most people in Malawi, Citizenship Education is about educating children and the youth, from early childhood, to become clear-thinking and enlightened citizens who participate in decisions concerning society. Accordingly, it is, therefore, the education that provides background knowledge necessary to create a pool of new citizens who would meaningfully participate and engage in the creation of a civilized society.

Malawi (© bpb)

1. Background Information

Malawi adopted multiparty democracy in 1993. It was a British protectorate from 1891 until 1964 when it got independence. From 1964 until 1993, the country was under one party dictatorship with Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda as Head of State and Government. During the colonial era, the education system was dominated by Christian missionaries, whose focus was more on primary than secondary education. The main educational focus for the colonialists was basic literacy and religious education with emphasis on both evangelisation and social control. Prior to independence, the school curriculum was very Western-centric and promoted western values. Secondary school education reinforced this by emphasizing on education for ‘character development’. This was apparent through extra-curricular activities organised by such organisations as Girl Guides, Boys Scouts, and the Boys’ Brigade which were established in most schools. These groups were modelled on their British equivalents, even to the point of requiring Malawians to affirm their loyalty to the colonial government and the British monarch.

The colonial curriculum was replaced by one that adopted a Malawian perspective. Curriculum changes included an emphasis on civic education with the aim of inculcating values and behaviors which were deemed appropriate for citizens of the new Malawi. There was need, therefore, to train new teachers on the new curriculum. Some of these came through the ranks and file of the Malawi Young Pioneers (MYP), a paramilitary wing of the ruling Malawi Congress Party (MCP) which was the only legal party in Malawi. Initially, the MPY was envisioned to be a national youth service initiative. It, therefore, trained primary school graduates in artisan skills, physical education, and modern agricultural practices. These youths were expected to spearhead development in the country, especially among rural communities. Several residential training centres were established across the country. With time, the MYP also became the ruling party’s apparatus for suppressing dissent as the youth were also trained to be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the MCP and guard against any elements of ‘subversion’ . In the post-independence Malawi, education was offered through officially controlled and structured courses in primary schools known as ‘Civics’. Civics was built around and aimed at promoting the national values of Unity, Loyalty, Discipline and Obedience. The subject also covered such topics as branches and functions of government, the Constitution, responsibilities, and obligations of a good citizen, among others. In addition, Kasambara (1998) argues that there was a concerted effort to keep the masses ignorant of extensive and active political awareness, and participation to make the masses feel this was their best possible world, which needed their support. The Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), the state-owned broadcaster, which was the country’s only radio station then, also played a major role in this regard.

There was also a Youth Week, which was one of the social initiatives which Kamuzu Banda introduced to promote a sense of civic responsibility among youths. It normally took place in the Holy Week leading to Easter Sunday, annually. The Malawians including the youths engaged in community development work during this period. But those who did not participate in it were taken as enemies of state and were dealt with a heavy hand by MCP agents.

Furthermore, there was the party membership card. It was a distinguishing mark of a true citizen and people were forced to purchase one every year. It became so precious that people had to always carry it with them to gain access to such public facilities as markets, hospitals, classrooms, bus stages and others.

2. Definition of Citizenship education

When Malawi became independent in 1964, Civics and citizenship education was emphasized in primary and secondary schools in addition to other subjects such as History, Geography and Bible Knowledge. In 1994, Malawi went through a political transition from one-party dictatorship to a multi-party system of government. This necessitated the review of the school curriculum so that it was responsive to the needs and challenges of democratic Malawi. The new political dispensation had come with new issues which needed to be addressed through the education system. One of the issues was democracy and its attendant concept of human rights which most people, including learners, misunderstood . In 2001, government adopted a new National Primary Curriculum (NPC) following a Primary School Assessment and Reform (PCAR) which embraced an Outcome Based Curriculum. Among others, PCAR was necessitated by the need to make education relevant and more responsive to the needs of Malawians. In 2012, a new secondary school curriculum was adopted following a Secondary School Curriculum Assessment and reform (SSCR), to correspond to the NPC’s outcome-based education (OBE) design. In the new curriculum, Citizenship Education was integrated in Social Studies in both the NPC and SSCAR. An audit of the SSCR Social Studies Curriculum has revealed that, although citizenship education is one of the topics, such other topics as 'Citizenship', 'Human rights,' among others, lack in-depth coverage in the curriculum . Thus, the new curriculum differs radically from its predecessors.

To most people, Citizenship Education is about educating children and the youth, from early childhood, to become clear-thinking and enlightened citizens who participate in decisions concerning society . It is, therefore, the education that provides background knowledge necessary to creating a pool of new citizens who would meaningfully participate and engage in the creation of a civilized society. This is also linked to other subjects such as history, geography, economics, law, politics, religious studies, etc.

Civic education (also known as citizen education or democracy education) is also a more encompassing term. It refers to the provision of information on public affairs in general. It encompasses all the processes that affect people’s beliefs, commitments, capabilities, and actions as members or prospective members of communities.

3. Ecosystems of non – formal Citizenship Education

Civic education is a relatively new phenomenon in Malawi, one of those interventions that define the 'new’ Malawi (cf. Englund 2002a). Ralph Kasambara (1998) describes how independent civic education could not take place in Kamuzu Banda’s Malawi. As with much else that took place in public, the glorification of Kamuzu was an integral part of life. Significantly, public protests one party dictatorship that culminated in the 1993 referendum happened spontaneously. While Kasambara describes the 1992 Catholic Bishops’ Lenten Pastoral Letter, Living Our Faith, as 'the first major attempt in civic education’ (1998, p. 240), it had succeeded in speaking for the masses on the ills that had plagued them for years. They simply had no voice in the face of the oppressive regime. Civic education was only introduced in the run up to the 1999 General Elections when the European Union (EU) started to fund a comprehensive programme of voter education, known as National Initiative for Civic Education (NICE) . NICE is now a public trust whose main objective is to strengthen democracy, good governance, and citizen participation in Malawi. Initially, NICE was a project and graduated to a public trust on 14th March 2012. Apart from NICE, the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) is another body involved in civic education. Formed in 1992 during political transition from one party to multi-party democracy. PAC is, therefore, a key civil society organization in Malawi. It is a faith-based organization comprising 34 faith institutions. It is a revered religious grouping that remains the voice of the voiceless. There are also other Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) that are engaged in civic education activities in Malawi. These include the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), Pan-African Civic Education Network (PACENET), Malawi Economic Justice Network (MEJN) and Malawi Human Rights Resource Centre (MHRRC), among others.

Civic education is also conducted in non-formal traditional activities such as initiation ceremonies. For instance, in the Yao boys’ initiation ceremony, the Jando, boys are introduced to acceptable societal norms such as things to do with chieftainships, respect for the rule of law and people in authority, among others. Suffice to say that they there are other traditional platforms that are yet to be exploited in conducting civic education. These include fine and performing arts such as dance, drama, song, music, paintings, and ceramics.

The ecosystem of Malawi’s non formal citizenship education cannot be complete without the media which has over the years played a critical role in the transition from single party to political pluralism. Currently, Malawi has over 50 national and community radio stations, 17 television stations and two major daily papers with national circulation, namely: The Nation and the Daily Times.

4. Legal and Regulatory Environment

Citizenship and civic education is supported by a myriad of legal and policy frameworks in Malawi. Some of these include:

  1. The Constitution of Malawi
    Chapter 1V of the Malawi Constitution contains a Bill of Rights and responsibilities for citizens. Rights that most directly speak to civic education include the right to education (s.25), the right to participate in political processes and civic matters (s.40), the right to freedom of opinion (s.34), freedom of expression (s.35), freedom of the press (s.36) and freedom to access information (s.37) .

  2. The Ministry of Civic Education and National Unity
    In 2020, Government created this ministry as a recognition that civic education in promoting the virtues of transparency, accountability, institutional strengthening, reconciliation, and nation building was critical.

  3. The Malawi 2063 First 10-Year Implementation Plan (MIP-1) (2021-30)
    This underscores the importance of citizen engagement, participation and fair conduct of elections, access to public information and promotion of accountability to and from the citizenry as critical for meaningful national development.

  4. Regional Conventions and Protocols
    Malawi is a party to several international conventions and protocols on human rights. These include the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) of 25 November 2005. Article 23 of the Treaty provides that ‘SADC shall seek to fully involve the people of the Region and non- governmental organisations in the process of regional integration .

  5. Malawi National Civic Education Policy
    This is a robust and comprehensive Policy that guides the implementation of civic education activities in the country .

  6. The NGO Board of Malawi and Council for Non-Governmental Organisations (CONGOMA)
    The NGO Board is a statutory body mandated to register and regulate NGO activities while CONGOMA is designated as an NGO coordinating body in accordance with Sections 24 and 25 of the NGO Act of 2000.

  7. The Electoral Commission Act, the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections (PPE) Act and the Local Government Elections (LGE) Act
    For Civic and Voter Education (CVE), section 8(1)(j) of the Electoral Commission Act specifically requires the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) "to promote public awareness of electoral matters through the media and other appropriate and effective means and to conduct civic and voter education on such matters." .

  8. The Malawi National Education Policy
    This is a Malawi Government’s blueprint on education which outlines the sector’s priorities and defines the country’s education policies that will guide the development of the education sector in Malawi .

5. Stakeholders

As earlier pointed out, there are several stakeholders involved in citizenship and civic education activities in Malawi. Some of these include state institutions such NICE, the Ministry of Civic Education and National Unity, MEC, the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC), the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) among others, and CSOs such as CHRR, PACENET, MEJN, MHRRC and Women’s Legal Resource Centre (WOLREC) to mention a few. Traditional and faith leaders also play significant roles in consolidating citizenship and civic education in Malawi. Since a higher proportion of Malawians (81%) identify themselves with a political parties compared with other Afro barometer countries, it would not be wrong to suggest that political parties have been successful in mobilizing support in their constituencies resulting in respondents being more knowledgeable about their leaders (Bratton et al., 2005). Citizenship and civic education is also covered in basic education which includes Early Childhood Development (ECD), Early Childhood Education (ECE), Out- of- School Youth Education, Adult Literacy, Complementary Basic Education (CBE) and Primary Education .

6. Challenges

While the importance of citizenship and civic education cannot be overemphasised, it has not been easy for players to implement activities due to several challenges. The first is fluidity of citizenship education and a multiplicity of definitions and models of citizenship. Davies (1999), for instance, has counted over 300 known definitions of democracy associated with citizenship education . Secondly, not only has explicit teaching for democratic knowledge been weak, the style of teaching has also not encouraged critical thinking or participation, in ways that might be considered necessary to promote values associated with a democratic political culture (Harber, 2002). Authoritarian approaches to teaching and learning have continued since the introduction of democracy; and have been reinforced under current conditions of schooling in Malawi (Kadzamira & Rose, 2003) . Furthermore, (Evans, 2007) argues that given the opportunity costs, investing in specific civic education-related subjects for school children in impoverished countries like Malawi with already over-crowded curricula might not be the most effective use of limited available time and resources. The other challenge is that civic education as well as citizenship education have not received much attention by both researchers locally and elsewhere. This is worsened by inadequate and dwindling funding to the sector. There is also ‘distortion of focus’ from the needs of community and beneficiaries to those of donors. . With exception of a few institutions such as NICE and PAC, most CSOs are urban-based and are more accountable to their donor than beneficiaries. CSOs are stigmatised for working on issues that challenge prevailing social norms, and in Malawi the civic space has been shrunk by restrictive legal frameworks such as the Malawi NGO Law. Lack of financial independence and dynamic leadership in CSOs has let to “CSO Capture” by the state. Over the years, most vocal critics of government have been lured to cross the isle to the government side. As an underdeveloped nation, the pattern of life for most Malawian has been predominantly traditional, which runs counter to active citizenship. Most of Malawi’s citizenship education is pre-occupied with providing “general information on the rights of individuals in a democratic society”, little effort is dedicated to building civic skills, competencies, virtues, and dispositions that citizens need to cultivate. Another serious challenge is the dichotomy of “demand side and supply side of governance”. In Malawi where civic educators have over-emphasized on demand side at the expense of supply side hence creating a lacuna which could torpedo the democratic gains made. The other daunting challenge is high illiteracy rate which stands at 54%. Again, over half of the population lives below the poverty line. Given these demographic features, it is difficult to expect an engaged citizenry. As Divala J (2005) further argues, citizenship education programmes in Malawi fail to embrace maximal conceptions of citizenship, and as such are very likely to promote passive citizenship.



  1. Kasambara, R. 1998. "Civic Education in Malawi since 1992: An Appraisal." In Democratisation in Malawi: A Stocktaking, edited by K. M. Phiri and K. R. Ross, 237–251. Zomba: CLAIM.

  2. Lamba, I. C. 2010. Contradictions in Post-War Education Policy Formation and Application in Colonial Malawi 1945–1961. Zomba, Malawi: Kachere series.

  3. Peter Namphande, Linda Clarke, Sean Farren & Alan McCully (2017) Education for democratic citizenship in Malawian secondary schools: balancing student voice and adult privilege, Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 47:5, 703-721, DOI: 10.1080/03057925.2016.1278356

  4. Englund, H. 2006. Prisoners of Freedom: Human Rights and the African Poor. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  5. Fiedler, K. 1996. Power at the receiving end: The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ experience in one Party Malawi. In God, People and Power in Malawi. Edited by Ken Ross. Blantyre: Christian Literature Association in Malawi.

  6. Divala, J. 2005 “Citizenship Education in Malawi: A critique in defence of maximal citizenship”: A Research Dissertation submitted to the School of Education, Faculty of Humanities in the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in fulfilment of the requirement for the degree of Master of Education.

  7. Kabwila, V. (1995). Factors affecting the implementation of English, Social Studies, Music, Chichewa and Mathematics curricula implementation in Malawi. Unpublished Master of Education Research Report. Brandon University Brandon.

  8. Khomani, P. (2003). Curriculum Development Process and the Malawi Experience. Domasi: Malawi Institute of Education.

  9. Chirwa G, Curriculum Change and Development in Malawi: A Historical Overview Department of Education and Curriculum Studies, University of Johannesburg, 09 Aukland Park Avenue, Aukland Park Corner University Road and Kings Way, Johannesburg, 2006. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences MCSER Publishing, Rome-Italy. P 336

  10. Chijere Chirwa W, A Background Conceptual Framework Note on Citizenship Education vs Civics and Civic Education “Developed for a Workshop on the Development of Civics and Citizenship Education Programme for Civic Education Providers, Liwonde, Malawi, 3-5 August 2018, p 1

  11. Kerr, D. Citizenship Education in the Curriculum: An International Review, National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) UK. [Externer Link:]

  12. Ibid, pp, 2-3.

  13. Shanyanana .R. 2011 Educationn for Democratic Citizenship Cosmopolitanism: The Case of the Republic of Namibia: Thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master’s in Education in the Department of Education Policy Studies at Stellenbosch University, PP 17 – 19, 24 – 25

  14. Englund, H. 2004. "Does Civic Education Disempower: a view from the grassroots", From Freedom to empowerment – Ten years of Democratization in Malawi, proceedings of the conference held from 4th to 6th June 2003, Lilongwe Malawi. pp 191-196.

  15. The Government of Malawi. 2016 "The constitution of the Republic of Malawi" pp, 16, 17, 21, sections 25, 34, 35, 36, 37, 40, 44

  16. Malawi Government, 2020, Public Sector Reforms Area, MDA- Ministry of Civic Education and National Unity, Implementation Period; 2020/21-2024/25. P 2

  17. Hulse. 2018. Civil Society Engagement in Regional Governance: A Network Analysis in Southern Africa

  18. Government of Malawi, Malawi National Civic Education

  19. Malawi Electoral Commission, 2013), Civic and Voter Education Strategy for the 2014 Tripartite Elections, p 1

  20. Government of the Republic of Malawi, 2016, National Education Policy, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Lilongwe, Malawi, P 14

  21. Evans. G, Support for Democracy in Malawi: Does Schooling Matter? Afro barometer Survey report, Nuffield College, Oxford OX1 1NF, UK and PAULINE ROSE * University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 9QQ, UK) pp 1- 5

  22. Kerr, D. 2003, Citizenship Education in England: The Making of a New Subject - OJSSE, P 2

  23. Watson R. and Collingwood, C. 2008, Strengthening Civil Society in Malawi, Final Evaluation of Intrac, Malawi programme 1998-2007, P 2

  24. Ibid, p, 5

Weitere Inhalte

Gray Kalindekafe, National Initiative for Civic Education (NICE) - Malawi