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Story Publication logo February 24, 2014

Paying the Poor: Money for Malawi's School Children


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In Malawi, people are using a deceptively simple strategy to alleviate poverty: giving poor people...

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Image by Kerstin Egenhofer. Malawi, 2013.

Since 1994, Malawi has offered universal primary education, meaning that students can attend school for free until they reach the eighth grade. However, the small costs of attending school — shoes, uniforms, notebooks — can quickly add up. If students arrive without these, some teachers turn them away for being unprepared. Other poor students drop out because of shame and stigma from their peers. For those who pass their exams and qualify to stay in secondary school, school fees are an additional burden.

In Zomba, a region in the south of Malawi, the local branches of the Ministry of Education are part of a pilot study to see whether giving poor students a small amount of money every term will keep them in school longer. Parents and teachers may give guidance, but it's the students themselves who decide how to spend the cash transfer. Some choose to spend the money on a school bag or an extra meal before school.

If the results from this study are promising, there is hope that programs like this will expand. However, at present the need outstrips the scope of the program. At Chilunga Community Day Secondary School, the deputy head teacher Gaudencia Kinsale has a list of 16 students hanging on her wall. These secondary students all fit the classification of being "needy" enough to qualify for the cash transfer, but currently only the five names at the top of the list are cash transfer recipients.



Three women grouped together: an elderly woman smiling, a transwoman with her arms folded, and a woman holding her headscarf with a baby strapped to her back.


Gender Equality

Gender Equality

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