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A new curriculum for mathematics in Malawi is exciting teachers and learners

Zione Sarah Banda is a primary school teacher at Mchedwa Primary School in Lilongwe Rural West Likune Zone. She is one of the teachers working with the National Numeracy Programme (NNP) to develop a new curriculum and teaching and learning materials for mathematics in lower primary grades.

The UK aid-funded National Numeracy Programme aims to improve student learning outcomes in mathematics, so girls and boys in Malawi have a solid foundation in basic skills to succeed in the rest of their schooling and fulfil their potential. The programme was launched by the Honourable Minister for Education, Ms Agnes Nyalonje, in June 2021, and will run until February 2024.

The programme is designed to address very low levels of learning in mathematics among children in standards 1-4 in primary schools in Malawi. A study conducted in 2018 found that the current curriculum sets low expectations for children’s learning. This finding is corroborated by Zione who has observed that children in standard 1 previously spent a whole year mastering numbers 1-9, even though they regularly make transactions in the market for hundreds and even thousands of kwacha. She’s also observed that children have no opportunity to explore different ways of solving a problem. They only use the method demonstrated by the teacher.

The NNP is set to change this. Over the last year, Zione and other educators in the 50 strong writing team, have been meeting regularly to develop new books for learners in standards 1-4. It has been intense but rewarding experience: “At the moment, I feel confident that I can write my own mathematics book! The process of developing mathematics book has been as enriching for me as it has been for my learners,” says Zione Banda with a smile on her face.

In September 2021, all the teachers and students in the 24 primary schools represented in the writing team started testing the materials. The testing phase began with a training workshop in which teachers learnt about new teaching routines to use with learners and how to use the new materials.

Zione Sarah Banda is a primary school teacher at Mchedwa Primary School Zione is delighted with the results so far: “As I taught mathematics during this test phase, I’ve noticed that children are enjoying the lessons and no-one in the class forgets their NNP mathematics book! The new curriculum is enhancing learners’ reasoning abilities as they are encouraged to find their own way to solve a problem and to explain it to other learners.”

The National Numeracy Programme in Malawi is led by the Ministry of Education and funded by UK aid from the UK government. Cambridge Education, a member of the Mott MacDonald Group, is leading a consortium of organisations providing technical assistance to the ministry to implement the programme.

The new curriculum and materials is being piloted in 200 schools and started in January 2022. The pilot will be rigorously evaluated by an independent evaluator and then based on the results, the new curriculum and materials will be scaled up to reach all children enrolled in standards 1-4 in Malawi.