In Malawi, where a policy of Free Primary Education has been in place for more than fifteen years, relatively few children have never attended school. However, despite high initial enrolments, primary education in Malawi is inefficient, with high dropout and low completion rates. Against a context of underlying poverty, research suggests that many of the children in Malawi denied adequate access to education are those orphaned or made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS. Evidence from Malawi and neighbouring countries indicates that not enough is being done in schools to support vulnerable children in the context of HIV/AIDS and that a powerful argument can be made for new, more flexible models of formal schooling that reach out to young people who face educational exclusion.
This doctoral study demonstrates the potential of flexible learning to enhance learning experiences, bring psychosocial benefits and help improve retention of vulnerable pupils in primary schools in high HIV prevalence communities in rural Malawi, with important, positive spill-over effects to pupils at risk of dropout. It also argues that effective innovation requires strategies to create an enabling environment and promote an inclusive philosophy within schools. Further insights were drawn from the perspectives of actors on the benefits, shortfalls and outcomes of the intervention, as well as the successes and challenges of the implementation process. A synthesis and discussion of the empirical findings in relation to the wider literature explores the possibilities for introducing more flexible modes of educational delivery and support within formal schooling.