1. Definitions

2. School Organization

3. Laws, Plans, Policies and Programmes

4. Governance

5. Learning Environments

6. Teachers and Support Personnel

7. Monitoring and Reporting


  1. Definitions

Inclusive education

The 2008–17 education sector plan counts among its priorities on education access and equity to ‘[p]romote early detection, intervention and inclusion for children with special health and education needs’. The 2007 National Policy on Special Needs Education defined inclusive education as a ‘learning environment that provides access, accommodates, and supports all learners’. In the 2012 Disability Act inclusive education is defined as a ‘process of addressing and responding to the diversity of needs of all learners through increasing participation in learning, cultures and communities and reducing exclusion from and within education’. More recently, in the 2017–21 National Strategy on Inclusive Education, the term inclusive has the connotation of including children who are likely to be excluded from and within the education system.

Special education needs

According to the 2007 National Policy on Special Needs Education, learners with special education needs are considered children and youth who require special service provision and support in their learning development. The definition refers to children with sensory impairments and cognitive difficulties, including gifted and talented children and youth, learners with socio-emotional and behavioural difficulties (autism, hyperactivity) and those with physical and health impairments. Likewise, the 2013/14–2017/18 education sector implementation plan repeatedly refers to special needs when discussing people with disabilities and refers to them as ‘challenged’.


  1. School Organization

Disability education has been implemented using a twin-track approach:

  • Children and youth with severe disabilities, such as learners with hearing impairments, attend special schools or special needs centres. These centres are institutions that provide special education to pupils or students suffering from physical disabilities or emotional, learning and/or behavioural difficulties.
  • Children and youth with mild disabilities, such as learners with low vision or with physical disabilities, are included in regular schools with their peers. At present, selected regular schools accommodate learners with special education needs. However, the 2013/14–2017/18 education sector implementation plan aims to strengthen inclusive education practices in all schools to avoid segregation.

Despite the increasing tendency to encourage learners with special needs to enrol in regular schools, learners with special needs have been transferred to special schools due to the lack of facilities, such as learners with visual impairment who moved to the schools for the blind.

In the transition towards inclusive education, special needs schools have been transformed into resource centres which serve learners with special education needs as institutional settings attached to primary, secondary or higher education institutions, as specified in the 2007 National Policy on Special Needs Education. As of 2017, there were 140 primary and 37 secondary resource centres. Tertiary education is not yet assisted with resource centres. The 2013/14–2017/18 education sector implementation plan intended to establish 15 additional resource centres per district, while the 2008–17 education sector plan aimed to introduce early childhood development resource centres in each education district.

In parallel, some communities have also mobilized resources to set up resource centres for persons with disabilities attached to local regular schools, such as Gumbo Resource Centre in Ntcheu and Migowi Resource Centre in Phalombe.


  1. Laws, Plans, Policies and Programmes

The 1994 Constitution, as amended in 2017, lays down the right to education for all (Art. 25) and contains non-discrimination provisions (Art. 20). Section 13(f) mandates the state to commit to offering greater access to higher learning and continuing education. The 2013 Education Act reaffirms the principle of non-discrimination in education irrespective of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, disability and other characteristics and lays down the right to free and compulsory primary education for everyone. Within this framework, the 2015 National Education Standards establish as minimum requirements the creation of a safe school environment regardless of gender, ethnicity, age or any special needs or disabilities, and the treatment of students in a fair and sensitive way in relation to gender, family circumstances, disability and learning needs.

The 2013 National Education Policy acknowledged the importance of ‘inclusion of special needs education, out-of-school youth and adult literacy in the education sector’ and aimed to ensure equitable access to quality and relevant special and inclusive education at all levels. More recently, the 2017–21 National Strategy on Inclusive Education makes inclusion central in the delivery of education services in the country, providing adequate education for children with disabilities.


State support for persons with disabilities, including regarding accessibility in public places and full participation in society, is regulated in Section 13(g) of the 1994 Constitution, as amended in 2017. The 2006 National Policy on Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, known as the Disability Policy, represents a paradigm shift in the approach towards disability. In relation to education, it fosters equal access and inclusion in education and training programmes by reviewing the national curriculum and learning assessment to better cater for the needs of learners with disabilities and by training special needs educators. The 2009 National Special Needs Education Guidelines set out a comprehensive approach to the implementation of the 2007 National Policy on Special Needs Education based on eight major components, including early identification assessment and intervention, access, quality, equity and relevance.

The 2012 Disability Act prohibits discrimination in education or training institutions on the basis of disability (Art. 11) and lays down the rights of persons with disabilities to equal education opportunities and training within an inclusive education system (Art. 10). Inclusion is realized by ensuring that the concerned group is not excluded from the general education system at any education level, by acknowledging their special needs and thus providing them with teaching and learning supports and appropriate financial assistance.

With the support of UNICEF and Save the Children, the 2017–21 National Strategy on Inclusive Education was adopted. Based on the principle of educating all learners, irrespective of any individual differences, in inclusive settings, it advocates for encouraging the involvement of and collaboration among stakeholders, including parents, families and communities. However, it also recognizes the need for some learners with special needs to continue receiving education in special institutions.


The 1994 Constitution, as amended in 2017, dedicates a specific section to gender equality (Sec. 13[a]). The 2013 Gender Equality Act is the main legal document addressing gender inequalities. It reaffirms the right to access to equal education and training opportunities and the need to ensure gender-equality education in the curricula. As a signatory of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development and the African Protocol on Women Rights, Malawi raised the minimum age of marriage to 18 for boys and girls with Constitutional Amendment Act No. 36.

The 2015 National Gender Policy aims to overcome gender disparities in all spheres of education by increasing access, retention and completion for girls and women and by strengthening the development of gender-responsive curriculum and education materials and equipment.

With the support of Save the Children, Malawi launched the National Girls Education Strategy in 2014 with the aim to increase girls’ enrolment at school, while the Re-Admission Policy supports pregnant students in particular to return to school after delivery. The 2014–20 National Plan of Action to Combat Gender-Based Violence intended to create an equitable, supportive and healthy school environment, including through the Girl Friendly School Program for the provision of water and sanitation facilities as well as through training and deployment of guidance and counselling educators and building capacity on violence issues among school managers and associations.

Ethnic and linguistic groups

According to the 2013 Education Act, English is the medium of instruction in schools and colleges. The revised act permits the use of Chichewa for standards 1 to 4, while Malawian languages other than Chichewa are not mentioned. As clarified by the National Reading Strategy, the language of instruction remains English, while learning in Chichewa remains exceptional. Recently, textbooks in Chichewa were printed and distributed nationwide. Innovative projects focusing on mother-tongue language instruction have been piloted. If successful, they are expected to be eventually scaled up and integrated into the primary school curriculum.


Since 1994, primary education has become compulsory and free. Retention policies in primary schools include a school feeding programme.


  1. Governance

The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology holds the overall responsibility for education management and provision, including the setting of policies, curricula, examinations and standards. Within the ministry, the Directorate of Special Needs Education manages education provision for special needs education and is in charge of integrating learners with disabilities into regular education. It also conducts early identification and needs assessment and collaborates with other departments within the Ministry of Education, other ministries, non-government organizations and relevant stakeholders on special needs education. With this purpose, the 2008–17 education sector plan intended to strengthen its governance and management capacity.

In line with the 1998 Malawi Decentralization Policy, primary education has been devolved to local councils, which now have control over the management of primary schools, including the payment of teachers’ salaries. The 2010 Community Participation in the Management of Schools Strategy outlines roles and responsibilities of the school governance structures, such as the school management committees, parent–teacher associations and mother groups.


  1. Learning Environments


In terms of school accessibility, all education facilities have been established to be accessible to learners with disabilities. Within the Ministry of Education, the Education Infrastructure Management Unit provides guidelines on building disability-friendly infrastructure. The 2013/14–2017/18 education sector implementation plan aimed to increase separate sanitation facilities at both schools and community day secondary schools, increase accommodation for girls in hostels and pilot a project on bicycle provision to reduce travel time to school.


The 2013 Education Act stipulates that the national curriculum promotes unity in diversity through a flexible framework, accommodating cultural differences and needs. The Primary Curriculum and Assessment Reform programme was recently rolled out to enhance the relevance and improve the quality of primary education, taking into account learners’ special needs. The review of the curriculum and assessment of secondary school education has considered, among other factors, special needs and gender matters.

ICT and learning materials

The 2008–17 education sector plan aimed to increase the provision of relevant equipment and teaching and learning materials for gender, special needs and others factors. With particular attention to special needs learners, it further called for equipping schools with Braille materials and assistive devices. While the Grant Support to the Education Sector II programme only financed learning materials in primary schools, the funding allocations are expected to be targeted at teaching and learning materials for special needs learners at the secondary education level as well. The government also allocates financial resources for special education needs activities. Using these resources, districts such as Nsanje have procured materials such as typewriters for visually impaired children.

The Making Wonders programme, which the department of special needs education implemented with support from the Scottish government, promotes access to ICT for learners with visual impairments and has made it possible for learners with visual impairments to access computers.


  1. Teachers and Support Personnel

The 2007 National Policy on Special Needs Education planned to introduce a special needs education module in all teacher training courses. The purpose was reaffirmed in the 2011 National Strategy for Teacher Education and Development, which aimed to train primary school teachers and college tutors on special needs education and establish an integrated support system within the Teacher Development Centre network. The 2013 National Education Policy intended to mainstream special and inclusive education and to enhance the quality of primary and secondary teacher education. Currently, just one college (Montfort College) trains about 100 specialist teachers every two years.

Regular teachers have been reported not to be qualified to deal with learners with special needs. Therefore, the 2013/14–2017/18 education sector implementation plan aimed to roll out in-service training on inclusive education, including training specialists in Malawi Sign Language, and to set up a dedicated special needs education institute.

To address the teacher shortcomings in certain areas, the Open Distance Learning scheme was introduced in 2010, allowing trainees to take in-school training combined with distance learning, thus avoiding the residential one-year training. However, the scheme has not solved the persistent inequities in teacher distribution. Itinerant specialist teachers are designated to deal with learners with special needs in different regular schools throughout the country within the itinerant teaching programme. They are expected to be provided with additional mobility support.


  1. Monitoring and Reporting  

As reported in the 2013/14–2017/18 education sector implementation plan, there are no indicators to monitor and evaluate implementation performance for learners with special education needs. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology is expected to identify new indicators to track progress for the target groups at secondary education level.

This profile has been reviewed by the Global Campaign for Education (GCE).

Last modified:

Fri, 06/08/2021 - 18:03