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The Impact Of Poverty On Education - Poem by Innocent Masina Nkhonyo



There are so many different tools that have been thought relevant in people’s developmental projects both at individual and societal levels. Education is one of such practical tools. Importantly to note, there are also various meanings that denote the broad term ‘education’. In this essay, however, we are mainly interested in defining formal education since our discussion will dwell much on it. According to Nwomonoh (1998) , formal education is the process of gaining knowledge, attitudes, information and skills during the course of life especially at school.

Though education is said to be so instrumental in human development but also in the revamping of world economies, it is very unfortunate that education systems, world wide, are being held to ransom all because of poverty at both governmental and household levels. According to Thibault (2009) , poverty means the shortage of common things such as food, clothing, shelter and safe drinking water, all of which determine our quality of life. It may also include lack of access to opportunities like education and employment which aid the escape of poverty.

Problems in our society are interconnected in one way or the other, just like poverty and personal family problems affect a student’s capability to learn. Improving education entails improving the living conditions of students. Having in mind that education is basically responsible for the development of many countries including Malawi, as the back ground suggests, we cannot afford to bypass such a vital element without a mention. Considering also the fact that poverty is one of the forces that come in the way; blocking the success of education, we feel it rational to look at how the two realities, education and poverty, affect each other both positively and negatively. That is also why we are convinced that this topic is worth studying. Our awareness of this source, poverty, and its impact on education will enable us devise some proper measures of intervention with the hope of minimizing the negative impact of poverty on education. This point, in short, explains the purpose of our investigation and why we are so passionate in getting into this research. During the whole discussion we are being guided by two questions thus, ‘does poverty really affect education? And if it does, what points do we have on the positive and negative impacts of poverty on education? ’


The study was basically qualitative in approach because of the nature of the issue that was being addressed. This was the case because the issue of how poverty affects education, both positively and negatively is particularly very difficult to predict the conclusions without penetrating into the core of the issue. For instance, one may unreasonably rush into concluding that poverty affects education negatively only and we cannot even dare to speak of poverty affecting education positively. The study was conducted in three schools namely; Mulunguzi, Masongola and Chirunga Private Secondary schools in Zomba district between 24th April and 3rd May. In this research we used both government and private funded schools to have a more balanced result on how poverty affects formal education in these different institutions. The information required for the study was collected through group interviews of form three students and individual interviews with teachers using semi-structured interview schedules. We opted to use these interviews in the first place because we felt books are more theoretical whereas a field research is practical and it involves real life experiences. Nevertheless, we still used desk research as a supplementary source of information and for clarity in some areas.


Positive impacts of poverty on education
To begin with, poverty encourages one to get educated and of course work hard in class. This is because the problems faced due to poverty are very serious and therefore students who are from poverty stricken families strive to end the problems and one of the best solutions is through education. That is to say, if a person, for instance, due to poverty, is taking just a meal in a day instead of three meals, and again if he/she is sometimes sleeping on an empty stomach, he/she will resort to education bearing in mind that if he/she gets educated they will secure formal employment and eventually be able to make ends meet for themselves as well as fending for their families.

Not only does poverty encourage one to get educated, but also it helped in the introduction of free primary education. In Malawi, for instance, when Bakili Muluzi became president, he introduced free primary education and he had eliminated the requirements for school uniform forthwith (Kadzamira & Rose,2001) . This had increased the access to education dramatically as those pupils who were coming from less privileged families were also given access to this free primary education. It should also be noted that the free primary education system was not only implemented to fulfill an electoral pledge but also bearing in mind that some families were not able to send their children to school due to poverty. Free primary education was there to deal with illiteracy by reducing families’ direct costs of education. Again due to the influx in the number of pupils in primary schools; there was a lack of teachers. Sonani (2002) , testifies that the Ministry of Education re-employed all retired teachers below the age of 65. This also meant that the once retired teachers got back to their source of income which helped them support their families as well as hauling the economy of the country. The implementation of free primary education system in Malawi forced the government to provide infrastructures so as to accommodate the large number of pupils in these schools. Simply put, poverty had led to the introduction of free primary education which means that more children are going to school, and again more teachers are being trained and getting employed and finally the construction of school blocks culminating into infrastructural development, all these branching from poverty.

We may also look at poverty from a positive angle bearing in mind that when a country is poor more funds and donations come into it. These funds and donations are also given to the education sector to build new infrastructures and in the maintenance of already existing ones in the sector. These privileged countries also provide learning materials to schools that are poor as a result students in these less privileged schools perform well in accordance with the amount and quality of the learning materials that they have been provided with. For instance, a United States based non governmental organization known as “Water for People” handed over 44 water toilets they built to Chimwankhunda primary school. The school toilet facilities had been vandalized 11 years ago but because of poverty the school could not renovate them (Gausi,2007) .

In addition, these funds and donations help more people to get educated. This is so because people can use funds as school fees, pocket money and buy stationery. The donations may include library books, chairs and writing materials. These can make a conducive environment for one to learn since there will be enough facilities at the school. For instance, with funding from the “United States Agency for International Development” (USAID) ,3,300 needy Malawian primary school girls are being funded. They are being provided with food, clothing, school supplies and hygienic products like soap and body lotion (Muhaliwa,2005) . Likewise,500 pupils at Katoto primary school in Mzuzu no longer sit on the floors during lessons courtesy of Southern Bottlers Limited and Lions Club of Limbe. Before these funds and donations, pupils used to sit on the floor due to scarcity of desks. These donations improved the pupils’ school attendance in such a way that pupils have started going to school regularly.

In the same line, a needy student can be given a scholarship to go further with his/her education. In this case the scholarship is given to the person just because he/she cannot manage to pay school fees on her own. This in turn benefits the needy person and the community at large. In this situation poverty has assisted in the development of education in an area by beckoning funds and donations from rich countries and organisations.

Further more; in most cases poverty facilitates one’s ambitions to attain formal education. It becomes easier for a poor child to put much of his concentration on education as compared to a rich child. This is because a poverty stricken student will have less destructive materials for entertainment. He/she will also have less or no money to indulge him/herself in activities that require spending a lot of money for instance, drinking beer. Sometimes even if the child can find money he/she can buy basic needs and not just spending it anyhow. Contrast to this a rich child may obtain things like ipods, mp3s, games for entertainment. These things in most cases destruct the concentration of students in their studies. As a result, one’s class performance is negatively affected since most of his/her time is being spent on entertainment.

Negative impacts of poverty on education

Just as a coin has got two sides, a head and a tail, poverty also, apart from having positive impacts on education, it does have negative impacts on the same. We have talked much about the positive face of poverty on education. We shall surely do ourselves injustice if we do not look at the negative part. In spite of the fact that poverty has an impact on education that is worth complimenting, we cannot afford in this discussion to overlook the point that so many students have been forced to leave the corridors of learning institutions due to the same poverty. One of the reasons that force some students leave the learning institutions prematurely is pregnancy, which in most cases, come because of poverty. It is almost common knowledge that a good number of students who come from poor families wish they could be sailing in the same boat with those who come from well to do families as far as luxurious life is concerned. The poor students constantly feel that there is something missing at the core psychologically. With this feeling in their minds, they tend to regard themselves as incomplete and not accepted socially. Consequently, they envy the rich students and squarely want to posses the things that are associated with the rich students. Very unfortunate that the poor students’ parents cannot afford to fulfill their children’s desires like what the rich parents would provide. Because the pull towards recognition is too strong for the poor students to resist, they end up in indulging themselves into prostitution in their search for money. Pity indeed that instead of recreating, as anticipated, their promiscuous behavior sees most of them getting pregnant and for some very unfortunate ones get even HIV and other STIs. From this discussion, commonsense convinces us that this school dropp out due to pregnancy is one of the negative impacts of poverty on education.

Adding more flesh to this discussion, we can also appreciate that hunger has been so instrumental in bringing down the standards of education world wide, in general, and Malawi, in particular. Frankly speaking, there are very few students if not none, who concentrate on their studies on empty stomachs. Food is one of the basic needs that every person is obliged to have if he/she is to survive. It is not surprising, therefore, to see some students performing miserably in class simply because they have not taken enough food or they have taken none altogether. The question of hunger finds its way into the education system because the government has failed to provide adequate food in most of its boarding schools. This is poverty at governmental level. There are also some students who are not boarders but still endure the hostile reality of hunger right in their homes. This is due to poverty at household level. It is sad that poverty, both at governmental and household level, has helped in engineering the deteriorating of education standards in Malawi.

Bearing in mind that it is only the eagle that can tell us the real whisper of a cloud, we visited Masongola Secondary school with the hope of getting first hand information from the students and their teachers since they are the ones who mostly benefit or get destructed by poverty. The Masongola secondary school students and their teacher, Mr. Enock Abraham, testified to us during an interview that government’s inability to provide extra food, apart from the usual beans that the institution offers, has seen many students developing ulcers. It would sound bizarre to reason that one can attend classes whilst he/she is on a hospital bed battling with ulcers. The Masongola students further testified that most poor students who have ulcers just bow down out of the race of learning because they cannot afford to buy extra food whenever the institution is serving the students beans.

This pitiful development goes beyond the boundaries of Masongola secondary school. Mulunguzi secondary school as Mr……the head teacher at the institution testifies, has not been spared from the scourge of school dropp outs simply because the school has not been able to provide extra or adequate food to students who cannot take what their friends take on health grounds. Needless to say this leaves the education standards in Malawi vacillating. It is a pity that though we have wrestled with this question of poverty a dozen times, we have not been successful in the battle. At one point in time, the government attempted to minimize the chances of school dropout in primary schools through its provision of porridge to pupils in the junior section. This attempt was in itself a good gesture but the government has failed to implement the initiative further in other schools that up to now have not benefited from the program.

It may not sound an exaggeration if we may say poverty has also forced a good number of students to give up their hopes of getting educated simply because they find it so difficult traveling to and from their respective schools. Lack of transport means, in short, has pushed them well towards the blink of despair as far as attaining formal education is concerned. This point speaks for itself how poverty can sometimes work on the education’s disadvantage.

As we go further with this discussion, we also appreciate the fact that the problem that mostly hinders a student’s success is inadequate resources that include; few teachers and learning materials. It must be highlighted that these problems are not only in developing countries but they may also find their way in reasonably developed countries like South Africa. In a developing country like Malawi, the education system encounters these problems because of the government’s failure to look into problems of infrastructure, capacity and availability of teaching and learning materials (Nkawike,2005) . The Muluzi government did a little if any; in as far as infrastructure is concerned. Lack of school blocks facilitated by a large number of pupils due to the introduction of the free primary education in 1994, forced pupils to have lessons under trees. In 2003, for example, lack of school blocks resulted in a tragedy at Nkomachi in Lilongwe when a tree fell onto an outdoor class, resulting in injury and deaths of pupils (Mvula & Chanika,2004) . This problem of learning materials continues till date, in all levels of the education system. According to Abraham (2009) , the school has always had shortage of learning blocks to an extent that the Physical Science and Biology laboratories are used as classrooms. There is also great shortage of books in all departments, and some departments like the technical department needs new equipment and current books which are very expensive. With this unfortunate situation we cannot anticipate good performance from Masongola secondary school.

In order to deal with these issues, the Muluzi government thought it wise to disregard the provision of learning materials in schools. Instead the Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) pass mark was reduced to ensure the success of students in their examinations. Even the director of Basic Education, Nelson Kaperemera admitted that funds intended for learning materials were servicing the debts of government at the expense of improving quality education. Instead of reducing the pass mark, the government and other stake holders should strive to improve quality of education, improve teacher salaries, and provide adequate materials and train teachers properly (Malawi News,2006) .

In developing countries like Malawi, the schools are understaffed (teaching personnel) and they tend to be handling a large number of students for long hours. Furthermore, the teachers are subjected to meager salaries, which are even made late. The government does not seem to have the welfare of teachers at heart, for instance the education Manager for Phalombe, Enoch Ali says the district is facing a dire shortage of teachers, a situation that is contributing to low education standards. The teacher pupil ratio in Phalombe is 1: 120, whilst the recommended ratio is 1: 60 (The Nation,2006) . Due to low pay teachers resort to organizing part time classes, which demand an extra amount of money on top of the normal fees. These changes clearly affect those students who come from very poor families, as they do not receive adequate studies because of lack of money.
This does not only occur in secondary schools, but it also happens in universities. As the academic staff of the Universities go on strike because of the government’s reluctance to increase their salaries. One considers how this is supposed to retain staff in the University. As a result lecturers spend more time doing consultancies; instead of preparing lectures and doing University mandated research. If we are serious about fighting poverty, formal education is the hub of ideas to fight these problems by improving its standards (Kapasula,2008) .
Child labour is one of the major problems that contribute to school dropp out. The majority of child labour victims are children who are living in poverty. This is so because they lack basic needs, for this reason they are forced even against their will to do any kind of work in order to gain financial wealth. This, therefore, affects school attendance. Evidence of school dropp out due to child labour is found in central region where most children are being employed in estates. This region has high tobacco production. Since this crop demands a lot of work, children are at high demand because they do not claim high wages compared to adults. Research, therefore, showed that the percentage of children attending schools is lower compared to that of northern and southern region (Nyirongo,2004) . We have the case of two brothers aged between 12 and 15 who were forced to work at a tobacco farm at Mpherembe in Kasungu district, where they were receiving 150 kwacha a day due to poverty (Namangale,2005) . We can see that child labour has a great impact on education because through it, a lot of children are being deprived of their right to education as they spend most of their time working.

In addition to that, Chirwa (2003) found out that child labour is also taking place in people’s houses. In this case children are forced to dropp out of school either by parents or on their own, to work in neighbouring homes. Here one of the victims is a 12 year old girl Elizabeth Chalimba, who left school when she was in standard six to work as a nanny in order to support her siblings. Children from low income families are at risk because though school is their only hope for a better future, they dropp out because their parents are failing to provide them with basic needs. Apart from child labour, psychological problems due to poverty is also another cause of school dropp outs. Research shows that the impact of poverty is greater on children as opposed to adults. Firstly, the problem arises due to the environment in which these children are raised. These environments being impoverished, they are intellectually unstimulating, and lack of stimulation results in impaired intellectual development of a child. This in turn contributes to failure in class which can later on lead to school dropp out.

Another problem comes when disadvantaged children are at school, they fail to understand why they do not have the same access to materials as their well to do friends. All of a sudden they start considering themselves failures and that there is little they can do about their destiny. Furthermore, if in class their friends or sometimes teachers seem not to care much about them, they get disturbed emotionally. Unable to cope with these psychological and physiological needs, they react by withdrawing out of school to be at home where friends and parents show interest in them. In some cases children living in poverty do not complete their education because they lack inspiration and support from parents. These children receive either little or no inspiration and support as compared to those who come from middle or high income earning families. This is so because their parents did not go far with their education, and are not fully aware of the crucial role education plays in their children’s future. This also happens because their parents are often absent leaving no one at home to supervise or assist their children with school work. As a result, this often affects children’s education and decreases the probability that they could go far with their studies (Weinstein,1999) .


This discussion has addressed to a greater extent problems encountered in the education sector due to poverty. While the elucidation pays more attention to the negative impacts of poverty on education, at some points it also highlights some of the positive impacts which are greatly outweighed in our discussion. Firstly, we discussed the positive impacts on education whereby; Poverty forces one to get educated by working hard, it helped in the introduction of free primary education system (in Malawi) , developed countries give funds to poor countries and poverty gets a person away from destructive ‘social pleasures’ of the world. Afterwards, we discussed the negative impacts whereby; poverty affects a person psychologically, poor people get limited resources (food and materials) , as a result, there is an increase in dropouts and lastly the personnel in the education systems are not fully equiped by the government. These findings are very vital to secondary schools as they enable us approach the problems in those schools squarely and well prepared. After the research we also look at poverty from a perspective that would not be taken by many. Thus, after reflecting on the positive impacts of poverty on education, we tend to look at poverty as a blessing in disguise. Our awareness of whatever findings we have on the table after the investigation, will help us see where things are not well and how or what should be done to address the problems. It is only from the findings that a way for our intervention is paved to minimize the negative impact of poverty on education.


These results can be used in Secondary schools in the following ways;
• Schools should identify those students who are needy to receive donations.
• Teachers should adjust their timetables or come up with make up classes to accommodate students who come from distance places.
• Teachers or social workers should provide psychological help to students who are affected psychologically by poverty.
• Government should provide some transport means like buses and enough learning materials.
• Those who need special diet on health grounds should be given food that suits their condition.
• Schools should encourage Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) meetings to discuss the welfare of the students.

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Gausi, C. (September 12,2007) US NGOs refurbishes toilets for schools. The Nation. p4.
Muhaliwa, M. (August 9,2005) CRECCOM in new girl’s education program. Daily Times. p4.
Sobo. (May 22,2006) Coca-Cola serves katoto FP school. The Nation.p12.
Namangale, f. child labor shifts to small farms (Ecam) . CFSC press review.
October 2005, p.56
Nyirongo, E.H.K. poor education is by religion. CFSC press review. January 2005, p.52
Weinstein, G.1986. The disadvantaged: challenge to education. Harper & row: London
Nwomonoh, J. (1998) Education and development in Africa. London: I.S.P. Publications.
Sonani, B. (2002, Sept.21-27) .Temporary teachers’ programme collapses.Malawi News, p.3
Kadzamira, E.& Rose, P.(2001, January) .Education policy choice and policy practice in Malawi: Dilemmas and disjunctures. Institute of Development Studies working paper,124.

Comments about The Impact Of Poverty On Education by Innocent Masina Nkhonyo

  • Rookie - 20 Points Yoonoos Peerbocus (5/21/2009 8:03:00 AM)

    rich reference/ a chronicle....reference based / meaningful/ awareness raising on hard reality.. in an edu. centred civilization (Report) Reply

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