Which region has the most “brainy” students, going by the Malawi national primary exam (PSLCE) results; North, South or Centre? And which region has benefited most from the selection into secondary schools?

In summary, out of the overall national primary school exam pass-rate of 79.39%, the highest district level pass-rate was from Southern Region District of Phalombe with 93.15%, while the lowest pass rate was from the Northern Region District of Mzimba South at 67.09%. There is a 13 percentage point gap between the best performing district and the least performing district.

The average pass-rate for Centre (11 education districts) was 80.64%, while for South (with 15 education districts) was 80.2% and North (with 7 education districts) was 77.7%, which is less than the national average of 79.39%. There is no significant difference between South and Centre although South did much better given the population size and higher number of districts. There is three percentage point difference between North (77%) and South/Centre (80%).

Out of the top five performing districts three are from the South (Phalombe at 93.15%, Zomba Urban at 90.66% and Mulanje at 90.63%), these are followed by two from the North (Mzuzu, 89.87%), and Nkhata-Bay (86.02%). Out of the bottom five, Northern Region has three districts (Mzimba South with 67.09%, Chitipa with 68.72%, and Rumphi with 70.55%), while Southern Region has two, namely Blantyre Rural (69.28%) and Neno (72.16%).

While Phalombe is the best performing district in the South, Blantyre rural with 69.28% is the least performing district in that region. In the centre, the best performing district is Lilongwe City with 84.78%, while the least performing district is Kasungu with 74.21%. In the North, the best performing district is Mzuzu with 89.87%, while Mzimba South at 67.09% is the least in the district, and least overall.

The intra-regional gaps in pass-rates are worth noting. In North, the gap between the best performing district (Mzuzu) and the least performing district (Mzimba South) is 22.78 percentage points, while in the Centre (between Lilongwe City and Kasungu) it is 10.57 percentage points, and the South (between Phalombe and Blantyre Rural (23.87). This confirm the wide disparities that exist within the regions, with most of it in the South and North.

Records from Malawi National Examinations Board (MANEB) which administers the exams, show that the Northern Region has consistently under-performed in PLSCE over the past 20 years, despite having better learning facilities and less distractions. However, the Northern region has comparatively done well in MSCE, mostly because most of its students have been selected to National Secondary Schools, where education quality is much better. North and South have double as many students at secondary (around 140,000 each) compared to North (around 70,000) but North has almost the same number of national secondary schools (7) as South (8), with Centre (10) having 3 more national secondary schools than the North.

It is not surprising that when it came to selection, Northern region, which performed least in the examinations, had the highest % of students selected at 42.2%, followed by centre at 39.45% and least, South, with 34.8%. There is an 8 percentage gap between the region with most percentage of its students selected and the region with the least percentage of students selected.

Across districts the Northern district of Likoma (with a pass rate of 79.35%) had 100% of its students who passed the exam selected to secondary schools, while the Southern district of Phalombe which had the best pass rate, had the lowest percentage of its students selected at 21.17%. This is ironical because it means many of the best performers from Phalombe have been left out. Will anyone raise a finger on this? I guess no, unless the affected district was from the North (I suppose!!).

Ministry of Education uses merit and proximity to secondary school to select its students, that is why the North has better percentage, since it has more secondary schools amidst smaller population. If it was pure merit, then it should have been expected that the North would have the least number of students selected to the national secondary schools, which offer better quality education than either the conventional secondary schools and the Community Day Secondary schools.

The number of students selected to national secondary schools is 79,779 from 210,328 who passed the PSLCE, representing 38% intake rate. The remaining 130,549 will either repeat, or go to private secondary schools, while the majority will drop out from the school altogether. This is a national tragedy, meaning that we need to do more to build more secondary schools to satisfy the demand. Primary school enrolment is currently around 5 million, against secondary enrolment at 370,000, meaning that a primary school pupil has a 7.4% chance of making it to a secondary school. Very sad.

In conclusion, there has always been a debate as to which region produces the best students in national examinations, and which region is benefiting the most from the national cake. No-one will fight with the truth told by the numbers of 2018 PSLCE results and those selected to secondary schools.

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